Change is never easy and organizational change is certainly no exception to the rule. Organizational change can cause a lot of anxiety, not least because the failure rate for such change is so high—roughly two-thirds of all organizational change initiatives fail. Yet organizational change is necessary, and inevitable, in order to stay competitive and relevant.
When done well, organizational change can lead to a more efficient and effective company with more satisfied employees, customers, and stakeholders. In fact, if done right the ability to embrace and successfully effect change can become an organizational strength. There are some key practices that organizations can focus on to substantially increase the odds that their change initiative will be successful. While every change initiative is unique and needs a situational plan, we’ve gathered six keys to a successful change initiative that leaders can focus on to help the entire organization reach success.
1. Know your corporate culture before you start
Initiating changes that run counter to corporate culture can be a recipe for failure. Successful change initiatives incorporate existing organizational culture into a change initiative. Tapping into how people in the organization already think, feel, act, and work can go a long way towards bringing people emotionally on board so that they embrace change. It is important to look for the parts of an organization’s culture that align with the changes leaders want to implement and bring them front and center. If you not clear on how your organization works, thinks, operates, and functions as a whole, the first step in a change initiative is to examine that aspect so you have a strong understanding and foundation to build upon.
2. Involve the entire company from the beginning
When planning a change initiative, leaders often underestimate the influence midlevel and administrative employees can have on the success—or failure—of a change initiative. Initiating and sustaining change will go much more smoothly if leaders consult with every level of an organization to gather input on the issues that will affect people and their work. Employees, particularly administrative ones, are often the knowledge keepers in an organization about where potential pitfalls may occur and what kinds of technical and logistical things need to happen at the ground level to ensure success. Most importantly, employees will come around to and support changes more quickly if they feel their input was considered and incorporated into a change initiative.
3. Accept that change is a process and take it step by step
It is natural to want a change initiative to happen quickly once the decision has been made to embark on one. However, one of the key measures of success is accepting that change initiatives often require a significant amount of time. Skipping steps—such as not doing due diligence and mapping organizational culture—only results in an illusion that things are moving faster and in fact can result in delays and ultimate failure. It is important to recognize that change will take time and you may encounter roadblocks or make missteps. To help avoid some of those roadblocks, it is useful to incorporate success measurements at different stages, including recognizing early-stage successes. Recognizing successes early on, even small ones, provides incentive to stick with the changes. To avoid missteps, it is important to take the time to assess what is working and what isn’t, and to adapt plans accordingly to support change from beginning to end.
4. Allocate enough resources
One of the primary goals of most change initiatives is increased financial success, but a change initiative needs enough resources—financial and human—to be successful. It is a good idea to allocate budget separately to the change initiative and adapt job responsibilities for key players so that they have more time to focus directly on the change initiative, rather than it being a pile up of additional work. Nothing can derail a change initiative more quickly than employee frustration because although they believe in the work and want it to succeed, they don’t have the time, budget, or support to help it succeed. It is also beneficial to allocate part of a change initiative’s budget to operational improvements such as process design and training so that people understand and have the skills to effect change.
5. Build a powerful change leadership team
Strong leadership and modelling from the top is essential to a successful change initiative but do not underestimate the super powers found amongst the informal leaders in your company. Engaging internal leaders—those who may not be managers in title but are the people employees talk to and trust and who motivate others—will help you lead outside the lines, as well as from the top down. Organizations that succeed with major change initiatives identify and engage these informal leaders—whether they’re a receptionist, project manager or well-respected supervisor—early on and find ways to involve them directly in the change initiative.
6. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Powerful and sustained change requires constant communication, not only throughout the rollout but after the major elements of the plan are in place. The more kinds of communication employed, the more effective they are: company-wide town halls, a dedicated place on the company intranet, function-focused meetings, and even events like an internal trade fair where teams can highlight how they are supporting the change initiative. It is essential to build in and commit to an on-going communications plan, one that includes not only disseminating information but also gathering feedback from people. A good communications effort ensures that employees know what is happening and how they might contribute to the initiative’s success.
Every organization is going to approach these keys to successful change initiatives in different ways, unique to the organization and the change desired. One of the things each of these keys shares is the human component—successful change relies on the people involved and therefore change initiatives need to be sold to an organization not only through rational arguments but the emotional case for change as well. Human beings respond well to initiatives that engage both their hearts and their minds, making them feel like they are part of something important that they truly want to succeed. Engaging people and implementing these change initiative practices will help to create—or bolster—an organizational culture that is agile and resilient in the face of change, making successful change an organizational strength for the long-term.