So your change initiative is DOA huh? After all of the hours and resources spent crafting the plan and all of the data that had been verified and massaged you’ve got nothing - bupkis. But why? What happened and how can you revive it?
Well, the truth is that up to 70% of all change initiatives fail. That’s an alarming statistic and consists of a myriad of complex factors that all converge to produce that failure rate. First, there is the reason for the change, where it is either:
Reactive - in response to technological or regulatory changes for example
Planned - so as to improve results
Transformational - which could be a whole new strategic approach.
To complicate things further, it matters what type of change we are talking about. Types of change could include changes to the organizational structure, to products or distribution partners, to corporate policies or management systems, just to name a few. When these factors coalesce in their own unique way, there is no wonder the failure rate is so high.
However, for simplicity sake, lets break it down into the two camps that are a constant no matter the cause or type of change we are discussing – Leadership and Employees. Don’t worry, there is plenty of blame to go around and while you may own some of it, there are other factors at play. Either way, if you have a grasp of these factors there is a lot you can do to prevent it from happening again in the future. Besides, how many more chances is the Board, your boss or the investors going to give you?
Let’s start with the employees first. All of us have a natural resistance to change and as a leader it is important that you understand these four major reasons people resist change.
- FEAR – it’s the great crippler of human potential. Whether it is fear of the unknown, fear of failure or fear of losing their jobs, this is the number one reason people resist change.
- EGO – we all have one. Large and small but nonetheless it is a powerful human element and is particularly prevalent in leaders, managers and business owners.
- Conflict- or rather the avoidance of conflict. As roles and rules become blurry, conflicts will emerge. Most will choose to avoid conflict at all cost.
- Lack of Purpose - without a sense of purpose, people become stagnant and complacent. They become burnt out and don’t see the point of all the new and different work they are being asked to perform.
There may be other de-motivating factors as well that serve to amplify these emotions such as leadership struggles, political wrangling’s, poor communication, or weak internal relationships. All of these factors combine to place a heavy burden on employee attitudes and motivation to get the job done.
From a leadership perspective, failure is frequently the leader’s inability, unwillingness, or blindness of the factors that cause the employee’s resistance in the first place. In order to lead change, you must also be open to change and be able to overcome your own fears. It is equally important to make sure that your ego doesn’t get in the way. By being open to new ways of viewing things and being open to feedback you can create a positive atmosphere for change.
Conflicts are going to occur and can usually be handled through proper communication. One way to avoid potential conflicts is to place a strong emphasis on managing expectations. This means that you must have a clearly defined vision combined with the action plans and metrics necessary to monitor the progress. Frequent updates not only help with reducing conflicts; they can also be a boost to moral as milestones are checked off the list. Employees will feel engaged and an integral part of the process which in turn gives them a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
“Let us be the change we seek in the world”
- Muhatma- Gandhi
Let’s face it, as a leader, and more importantly, as a human being, you share the same fears and resistance to change as your employees. To really get your employees to accept and embrace change you have to first lead by example. You must demonstrate your willingness to change and a powerful way to accomplish that is by asking your direct reports, or your boss, (or both) to give you three things that you could change to become a better leader. Don’t accept less than three things because the third one will likely be the most important one. If you are open to their ideas and make a real effort to change, then you can establish yourself as an effective leader and help those around you be more open to new initiatives.
In today’s world, we face more change in a year than our grandparent’s did in a lifetime. Change is all around us and it is relentless, frustrating and scary. It can be exhilarating and rewarding. No matter how you view change, one thing is for sure, it is not going away.