Why Is Implementing Change So Hard?
Achieving change in an organization requires a relentless commitment to include people and their thoughts in the process. Most change efforts fail because of a lack of understanding of the dynamics of organizational change. Organizations behave like a biological system. They attempt to achieve balance by resisting agents of intervention or interruption. The organization as a whole – the “system” – will routinely resist organizational change efforts above and beyond the resistance of specific individuals.
Successful change requires a multi-level approach to prevail – a “commitment for the long haul” by top management, full “ownership” by the workforce and continual support for and by middle management.
A rethinking of organizational communication is usually required to ensure a successful change initiative. This includes setting up the right structures, channels and procedures to communicate with the workforce on the progress of the change effort.
Major change requires continual buy-in from the workforce. The most important part of any change effort is the “selling” of it. A useful viewpoint to adopt is that buy-in from the workforce is never completed.
Preparing for the challenge of implementing change is difficult. Having the tools as managers to dislodge predictable roadblocks is critical. By gaining a deeper understanding of the dynamics of organizational change and specifically the fundamental principles of implementing change, you will be better prepared to drive change whether it is within your team or through your organization.
You want to continually develop yourself and ensure that those who work for you continue to learn. You need to share information with team members and not be afraid to repeat your message. Typically, it takes at least seven times to hear something before it is remembered. Sharing information needs to become an important part of the culture to increase organizational learning.
Change requires patience and persistence that is measured in years, not months. When change does not produce the desired results as quickly as many hope, skeptics can then say, “I told you so” and confidence about the change begins to erode. Employees begin to wonder if the change effort will continue. Top management's long-term commitment is especially critical to shore up support and keep up morale.
Poor business results unconnected to the change effort will put pressure on management to “get back to basics.” Senior management's support has to be loud and constant to allay fears that the plug will be pulled. When change initiatives are terminated midstream or left to languish indefinitely, it makes it more difficult to gain employee interest in later programs. Employees can often list at least a half dozen failed initiatives, or “flavors of the month” programs. Some organizations become “change-immune” as a result of their inability to undergo the changes necessary to survive. Meanwhile, others have flourished because they have taken the difficult ground in getting their workforce equipped for the new world of work.
Part of a manager's education in organizational change is understanding the factors that can speed it up or slow it down. Certain factors can accelerate change by “positively reinforcing” the gains that are made. Individual/team learning and success can be powerful accelerators of change. Well-documented and well-communicated, improved organizational performance can also be a powerful accelerator as the workforce sees the business benefits of culture change. When successes are celebrated and recognized, motivation levels can be maintained. Coaching through difficult times can additionally help to maintain focus and commitment levels.
There are also inhibitors of change to be aware of. Just as there are limits to growth in any living system, there may be limiting factors in how organizational systems fundamentally change. The system itself may resist change. Individual fears or concerns about change can inhibit or limit the organizational change with common complaints like, “I can't do this and my job,” “We’ve tried this and it doesn't work,” “This is just an excuse for downsizing,” “Management is the roadblock, not us, they never walk the talk” or “It's just another program, so who cares?”
Unless the workforce buys into the change process – understanding its personal benefits and adopting it as its own – it may push back, consciously or unconsciously, against what it perceives as a top-down, hierarchically mandated, spoon-fed program. People must be empowered to understand the effort and be provided with the skills necessary to execute the changes. But there are some fundamental principles for implementing change including: Manage the buy-in, manage the communication, manage the outcomes and the timetable, manage the morale, manage the education and manage the politics that will make a huge difference in whether your change initiative is sustainable.
Stuart Levine is the Chairman & CEO of Stuart Levine & Associates, EduLeader LLC. He can be reached at 516-465-0800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.