Making Change in Your Organization
Written by Wally Adamchik
January 16, 2022
Leadership is about change for better results. But how do you go about leading that change? And more importantly, how do you lead change effectively, when the research tells us most change initiatives fail?
In this lesson, Adamchik looked beyond the typical buzzwords that often surround change — vision, values, and alignment — to explore just why change initiatives often fall short, and how you can buck the trend and make the changes your organization needs to succeed.
Why most change initiatives fail.
When 500 senior leaders in construction were surveyed about the implementation of change in their organizations, a depressing 73% of the respondents said that change initiatives often fall short.
These senior leaders were the ones behind the drive for change, the ones who said, I’m going to get it done. Yet here they were, nearly three-quarters of them, saying they couldn’t get it done.
So, why do change initiatives fail? Adamchik explored two primary reasons:
Time, money, energy: it takes more than you think. Implementing change takes more than you think. It takes more time, it takes more cash, and it takes more personal involvement.
“The problem is, as a senior leader, you’re not about the personal selling of the change you want to implement, right?” Adamchik said. “But the fastest way to build trust and troubleshoot the potential problems of change is through personal selling. And by that I mean you getting out there, working the room. So that video you made, to implement the change? That’s just the beginning, but all too often, it’s also the end.”
You haven’t invested the time or resources to make it work. If you’re rolling out change, you need to have the capacity in your organization to make the change. But if you’re already at 100% capacity, you won’t be able to invest the time and resources you need to make it work. So what can you do about this?
“You take something off somebody’s plate, and put them in as champion of implementing the change,” Adamchik said. “One of my clients took their best senior project manager from construction operations and put her in charge of the rollout and implementation of the change they wanted. And the initiative succeeded, because they invested her time in it.”
How to make change in your organization.
So now you know why your change initiatives haven’t worked well, and you’re ready to change how you’re making change. Here are some practical tips for effectively implementing the changes you want.
Don’t train your organization to not change
Think about how you begin the process of initiating change. You get the idea for the change on day one — zero level — and you play around with it for a few months. And as you do, your readiness for the change increases.
Once you’re ready to make the change, you let your management team in on it. And they’re like, what the hell are you talking about? But three months down the road, their readiness for the change has gone up too, and now you’re there together.
“So then you roll it out,” Adamchik said. “You have this big kickoff meeting. This is going to be great, you tell everyone. And then you walk away, because you’ve done what leaders are supposed to do. You’ve implemented the change.”
But what about your frontline? They’re back there at zero level. “They’re going, what the hell are you talking about?” Adamchick pointed out. “And at this point, when there’s maximum need for leader support, you’re already working on the next change, and you’re starting the process all over again. And what happens is, you end up training your people to be patient. To wait the change out. They know it’ll go away, and a new one will take its place.”
What have you done here? You’ve trained your organization to not change. “So pick less change, and dedicate more of your time to it,” Adamchik said.
Dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.
Change doesn’t just happen. You know you need a vision, but you also need a lot of things to implement that vision: you need the skills, the incentives, the resources, the plan, the personal selling.
But if you’re missing any of these things along the way, you’re risking your change. And you end up with confusion, anxiety, and resistance. So the key is to remember to keep asking yourself, do I have all the things in place to implement this change?
Pick something that really matters.
Examine your reason for the change. Maybe it’s because the market wants it, or the customer wants it, or the organization needs it to grow in the right direction — whatever that reason is, you need a reason. You can’t change just for the sake of change.
But your reason for the change needs to really matter, too. It needs to be something that will have an impact on your organization. Because if it doesn’t really matter, you’re not going to be that committed to it. And neither will anyone else.
Recognize the human response to change.
Anytime you roll out a change initiative, some of your people will say to themselves, are you telling me I’ve been doing it wrong all this time? This is the human response to change. It’s a voice that says, hey, what you did isn’t right, and I need you to move into the scary unknown.
Neither of these feel good. “So you say to them, it’s not that you’ve been doing it wrong,” Adamchik explained. “But there might be a new, or better way of doing it. And I value how you’ve done it all these years, but we’re going to try this new method, and I want you to join us in this.”
Help your people to understand what the future looks like, what their role is in that future, and that they’re going to be okay.
Change initiatives often fail. But they don’t have to. As you lead the change your organization needs, remember:
- It’s going to take more — time, money, energy — than you expect.
- You need to have the capacity to invest the necessary time and resources.
- Know the timelines needed to get everyone onboard, and don’t walk away too soon.
- Pick less change, so you can dedicate more time to the change you want.
- Dot those i’s and cross those t’s, so you’re not missing anything that you need.
If you understand the change process, you’ll get to that payoff of effective leadership: change for better results.
Written by Wally Adamchik
January 16, 2022