In the neverending quest to keep up with ever-changing business models and maintain a competitive edge in today’s marketplace, many businesses undertake perilous and often unsuccessful organizational transformation processes.
Armed with inspiration and high hopes for success, these businesses embark on a transformative journey, expecting smooth sailing and sunny, positive outcomes. Unfortunately, many become flooded with dark and stormy weather. Almost every organization has the rudimentary objective of managing evolving trends and discovering more innovative ways to increase business. But without proper planning, strategy or professional guidance, most organizational change efforts fail, because the impetus relies solely on the structural aspects of change – i.e. IT systems, email programs, software, and office seating, to name a few. The reality is that successful organizational change can only happen when thinking, habits and beliefs change at the individual level.
To successfully change even the smallest element of an organization, there are several necessary phases to undertake, including: creating a clear and present vision, establishing a firm leadership coalition for change, make it urgent, don’t underestimate the power of communication, celebrate the small stuff, don’t celebrate too soon, and plant a change anchor.
Create Clear and Present Vision
With no transformation vision, projects become incompatible, efforts get scattered and the organization can lose its focus and lead the effort nowhere. Further, developing a clear vision is a key proponent in transformation, as change is impossible unless individuals are willing to help, often making tiny sacrifices. People will not make sacrifices unless they believe that the change will positively impact their job. Without credible communication, and a lot of it, the hearts and minds of each individual will never be captured.
Establish a Firm Leadership Coalition for Change
Transformation typically begins with one or two individuals. This group ultimately grows over time forming a coalition of leaders. It is critical that a coalition is formed early in the change process, or companies risk a waste of resources and time. Many say that major change is impossible without the head of an organization’s active support. Successful transformation calls for the head of the organization, plus 5 to 50 individuals to develop a coalition with a mission and commitment to excellent performance throughout the entire change process. Guiding coalitions include members who are not part of senior management, but have a range of titles, expertise and differing reputations and relationships.
Think about it this way: “If the existing hierarchy worked well, there would be no need for an organization- wide transformation. Reform generally demands activity outside of formal boundaries, expectations and protocol” (John Kotter).
Make it Urgent!
Creating this sense of urgency is critical to success. A successful sense of urgency will jump start the transformation process and aid in the cooperation of numerous individuals across the organization.
“Without motivation, people won’t help and the effort goes nowhere…” (John Kotter).
Sounds easy, right? Nope. In reality, creating a sense of urgency is the most difficult to achieve. More than 50% of organizations fail at this, underestimating the intricacies of enacting change at the employee level; moving the workforce out of their comfort zones and into possibly unfamiliar territory. Transformation truly begins with a leader who sees a major need for change and is willing to act now on that need. Keeping this sense of urgency throughout the project is critical not only to following through on the project, but also ensuring the future success of the business.
Don’t Underestimate the power of Communications
In successful transformations, executives utilize all existing communication channels to broadcast the vision. Successful transformation executives turn boring, unread newsletters into energetic articles about the vision, turning routine management meetings into stimulating discussions that involve all areas and levels of personnel. These executives continuously strive to be a living symbol of successful change in a new corporate culture.
Celebrate the Small Stuff
Profitable transformation takes time and often runs the risk of losing momentum if there are no short-term goals met and celebrated. Most individuals won’t embark on a long journey of transformation unless they are shown compelling evidence within 12 to 24 months that the journey is worth the sacrifice– and is generating results. Without short-term wins, many people will give up and business becomes confused and stagnant.
“Commitments to produce short-term wins help keep the urgency level up and force detailed analytical thinking that can clarify or revise vision” (John Kotter).
The War Ain’t Over- Don’t Celebrate Too Soon
With all the excitement that change brings, managers may be eager to declare victory with the first clear performance improvement metric. “While celebrating a win is fine, declaring the war won can be catastrophic” (John Kotter).
Transformation efforts will remain fragile until they are deeply embedded into a company’s everyday culture, business practices and lifeblood. Interestingly, a premature celebration praising the transformation often happens when a combination of change supporters and change naysayers and resistors come together to assess a new process. Change Initiators get overly enthusiastic with signs of progress and are joined by resistors, who are quick at spotting any opportunity to stop or impede change. After the enthusiasm dies down, the resistors attempt to prove that the war has been won and troops should be sent home. Often times, initiators fail to see that there are many battles to be won and allow themselves to be convinced they won the entire war. Once initiators are back in their comfort zone and acting on old habits they are reluctant to run back into war. Soon thereafter, change comes to a standstill, and stagnant tradition tiptoes back in.
Successful organizational transformation leaders use short-term wins to tackle large scale issues.
Plant a Change Anchor
Planting a change anchor is where many companies fail to make it out of the stormy weather.
A change anchor ensures the change truly sticks and it becomes, “the way we do things around here.” Until new habits are rooted in social norms and become shared values they are subject to deterioration once the pressure for change is gone.
Today’s guest blogger is Nicolette Simanovich, Enterprise Consultant at SADA Systems