The hard truth about leading change that lasts

Five tips to help balance an organization’s priorities and plan changes


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One of the toughest challenges leaders face is making change work, from building initial momentum to sustaining change long term. How can leaders help employees accept change more easily? How often have changes been launched with great effort and fanfare, only to evaporate over time? How many changes can people handle at one time? Why is successful, effective change so elusive, even when led by bright, passionate people?

Leading effective and lasting change is not easy, simple or quick. Part of the reasons change efforts fall short is due to our desire to make things happen quickly. In addition, change implementation requires a wide array of leadership skills, as demonstrated in McKinsey & Company’s recent survey, “Why Implementation Matters,” which is chock full of practices that have been proven effective by successful change-making organizations.

Still, as on-target as the survey’s insights are, the findings of the survey feel incomplete. We decided to leverage McKinsey’s valuable survey findings in combination with our own research and experience, to produce the following guidelines for leading and sustaining organization change:

1. Enable people throughout the organization to take ownership and commit to change.

 • The business strategy must be at the core of change, serving as the context for and providing a compelling reason for organizational change. By aligning changes with the business strategy, leaders are able to focus the organization on a prioritized, integrated set of changes. This enables employees throughout the organization to see how each change fits into the bigger picture and supports the organization’s success.

 • People support decisions they help to make. Discussions are most effective when they start to happen early enough so that stakeholders can provide input that shapes change decisions and plans from square one and on.

2. Keep change on track through the use of standard change processes, strong project/program management and by tracking and discussing relevant metrics.

 • Remember to consider the human dynamics of change. Anticipate the positive and negative impact the change will have on people and their work. Whenever possible, find ways to off-set negative impact on people.

 • Solicit input from stakeholders about obstacles, solutions, gaps and unintended consequences.

Monitor progress often so that adjustments can be made during implementation to improve the effectiveness of change.

 • Provide timely feedback to individuals and groups, to build and sustain accountability.

 • Continuously evaluate and ensure that the organization is providing adequate resources and capabilities to execute change.

3. Celebrate milestones achieved, and recognize people and teams for progress, efforts and results, and build enthusiasm and clarity on the next milestone.

 • Recognizing individuals and teams continues to bring people closer and strengthen relationships throughout the organization.

 • This is a re-energizing, positive activity that works well when conducted ritualistically, one that engages people so they look forward to attending.

4. Continue to measure and communicate about the impact, the effectiveness and the ROI of change, for 2-3 years following the change.

 • Sharing struggles and successes helps people to learn from the ups and downs of the process.

 • Look for and evaluate unintended consequences resulting from change i.e. does a change improve on-time-shipment but encourage short-cuts in quality?

 • Continued measurement and communication supports change, enabling people to lock in change over the long term.

 • Highlighting both financial and non-financial benefits of change as well as information shows the positive impact of change on achievement of the business strategy.

 • People retain and find meaning in leadership’s communication when it is interesting, authentically enthusiastic, clear and understandable at a personal level.

5. Remember to plan for resources as needed to support the change until it is tightly woven into the fabric of the organization.

• Haven’t we all experienced, at some point, the state of overwhelm caused when an organization tries to make changes too rapidly, leaving one change process incomplete to move on to the next? Planning for both the short and long term helps leaders to prevent organization overwhelm.

• Consider the “regular” work people are doing to achieve goals as well as to measure the status of the installation of a current change initiative. This enables leaders to understand the readiness of the organization to take on the next change.

These five actions are intended to help leaders balance organization priorities and to effectively plan changes and timelines that are doable, enabling their people to lock in each change.

Will these five guidelines help your organization to master change? Please share your tips, successes and learnings.

Rosanna Nadeau, principal/consultant, at Prism Perspectives Group LLC, Mason, can be reached at 603-878-1546 or Rosanna@PrismPerspectivesGroup.com.

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