Why do so many change efforts fail? Bad implementation and embedding

Guest blogger:

Sarah_PlattsSarah Platts, Open University Business School MBA Alumnus, Change Consultant at FreshNetworks    

Having previously written about innovation and leadership following Open University Business School events, I went to another one recently on the topic of change management. According to research, over half of change efforts fail (52%) – but what’s the main cause of failure?

According to Professor David Wilson, the main issue nowadays isn’t getting the change going or sustaining it so much as embedding and locking it in. So how can companies improve the change implementation process?

1.  Provide effective strategic leadership

  • Create a compelling vision – senior managers should stop over-prioritising controls and mere box-ticking, and provide a compelling company vision and strong organisational culture and processes which facilitate change.

2.  Invest in smart people

  • Create a strong knowledge base – which is full of smart people who can create the required culture, rather than trying to change organisational culture and structures first and foremost. Phil Smith, CEO of Cisco UK & Ireland, also emphasised the importance of hiring the right people; self-starters adept at using an organisation’s network and resources, connecting with people, and collaborating across boundaries.
  • Invest in young people too – Mr Smith referred to Cisco’s interesting process of “reverse mentoring”, whereby a graduate employee can “mentor” an SMT member, enabling each of them to explore things from the other’s perspective.

3.  Embed change throughout the organisation at all levels, and lead from the top down

  • View change as habit – not an occasional exercise. However, while it’s important to ensure there’s enough change, there should equally not be too much. Furthermore, be positive rather than negative about change, and never think there’s more change now than ever before (there was plenty going on during the industrial revolution, and following all the many inventions that have changed the world!).
  • The CEO, Finance, and Sales & Marketing are key roles / departments which need to lead the change – and leading from the top-down is crucial. However, everyone in the organisation and all managers also need to be involved and share “ownership” of the change (it’s a team sport according to Professor Wilson). So the right balance between controls and structure, and empowering people at every level to suggest and shape things, is key.
  • Incentives and rewards are important – the economic piece of the change puzzle needs to be tight, and align everyone with organisational objectives.

4.  Use the right management styles, methods, and structures to aid implementation

In his session, Professor Brian D Smith recommended:

  • Consult and then decide (stop being so democratic!) – don’t overly focus on gaining cross-functional team buy-in, as collaborative decision-making actually diffuses ownership.
  • Engender commitment to the organisation as opposed to commitment to individual teams, or groups within the organisation.
  • Set up interdependencies within functions / teams – to promote collaboration and working together to get things done.
  • Establish a productive mix of SMART non-discretionary activities (the hard stuff that can be measured), and discretionary activities (the softer stuff which cannot be measured). The latter often get eclipsed (in practice, and change management theory) by the former, but discretionary activities lead to greater “affective commitment” (positive emotional attachment) which trumps mere “continuance commitment” (whereby an employee needs to work for the organisation more than they would otherwise want and choose to).
  • Get rid of matrix structures – which promote conflict over collaboration, and set up project teams instead, with project team leaders who have line management responsibilities.

I’ll be writing another two posts over the next few days, looking at 3 ways to ensure your change effort is a success, and also 3 ways to communicate change.

This article was originally published on Read more at Business 2 Community website on 24 July 2013. 

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