Eight steps to achieve sticky change in your organization

Originally published on January 16, 2015 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-digital/innovation/change-is-the-new-status-quo-embrace-it/article22447422/

Change sucks, let’s be honest (even for a guy like me who gets bored in his sleep). Doing things differently is difficult. Re-learning, re-thinking and, most importantly, getting people to go along with your new regime is a task fraught with peril and potentially dogged resistance.

But there’s no denying that change is a constant in life and often inevitable. We live in an era of social change, market change and technological change that add up to 24-7 turmoil. This means change is no longer a specific event that we can anticipate or plan for. It’s a continuing process that we must live out daily.

With the New Year upon us, I want to focus on how to embrace change and make constant evolution a more achievable resolution for us all.

Having read through a series of articles on change published over the last 20 years, I’ve been struck by one thing that hasn’t altered much at all: the success rate of change initiatives. It appears that historically only 30 per cent of corporate change initiatives succeed. A .300 batting average might get you into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but it’s not an acceptable success rate to any owner, manager or CEO trying to keep their business ahead of the curve.

In my opinion, change initiatives are almost always defeated by a problem of definition. By “definition,” I refer to the act of determining what success looks like at the end of the process. Case in point: not long ago I sat in a client’s brainstorming meeting and the exercise started with a broad, sweeping proclamation: “Something has to change here. Sales are not where we want them to be. We need ideas.”

Sadly, objectives like these are too broad and ambiguous, to succeed.

Through a series of simple questions, I helped the group drill down to focus on a more tangible definition of success. First, how far off-target are dollar sales? Second, based on the amount of dollar sales required, how many new accounts are really needed to close the gap? Third, how many people should be tasked with acquiring the new sales? And, finally, what geographic area should these sales be drawn from?

Within 15 minutes we had moved from a broad-based need – sales – to a specific definition of success: “We need six people to bring in a total of 12 new accounts from a 10-kilometre radius of their office within one year.” This is a well defined and achievable goal.

Most importantly, this focus identified that the real problem wasn’t sales. Lagging revenue was just a symptom of the real problem: inappropriate marketing. Given its model of big-ticket sales, the business’ focus needed to change from costly, ineffective awareness marketing to targeted, one-to-one initiatives supported by sales training.

Definition and focus are the all-important, overarching fundamentals of every change process. Once success is clearly defined, I have developed these eight steps to achieve sticky change:

1. Define stakeholder and organizational needs.  Identify, support and engage the people on your team who are going to be affected by change. Address their motivation, their practical and emotional needs, and their readiness for change. This information will help you craft a compelling vision for the project outcomes, secure senior-level support, and map out a thorough project plan.

2. Identify measures of program success and appropriate rewards.  Major milestones and specific metrics need to be established, with goals being used to bring focus and clarity to the outcomes you wish to accomplish. This creates alignment across the organization, provides for greater levels of accountability, and establishes a framework for celebrating success or making course corrections.

3. Design the change program.  Successful change programs align with and can be integrated into the company’s culture. Building a link between a change initiative and the organization’s current values, vision, mission and processes will leverage existing attitudes and strategies. This will substantially increase the impact and longevity of any change.

4. Reduce obstacles and barriers up-front.  Identify all potential obstacles and address them early on. Map out the stages of the journey your organization and team members will experience, and develop a plan for managing and navigating through each stage. In this way, clarity will replace ambiguity, and acceptance will overcome apprehension.

5. Deliver the program elements.  Support change with robust project and communications plans. Change, by definition, is about doing things differently, so it requires more planning, not less. Checklists and techniques for ensuring successful program delivery should be developed and reviewed with regularity, allowing for fine-tuning on the fly.

6. Coach your change champions, early adopters and managers.  Identify the champions who will lead your change project. Change champions make initiatives more credible and more scalable. They will help you build momentum faster. Support them with one-to-one coaching so that they’ll feel more empowered and better equipped to direct their teams through the hurdles of implementation.

7. Communicate goals and results to the entire organization.  Support change initiatives with strong, frequent communications that share short-term gains as well as long-term success. Ongoing communication builds momentum by letting team members know that their efforts, ideas and participation are not taken for granted.

8. Review progress at pre-scheduled team meetings.  Measure performance and share results. Regular feedback is a necessary accountability tool. Formal checkpoints should be determined at the start of the project and scheduled in advance, with Change Champions tasked to lead scheduled review meetings with their teams, and report back to senior management.

Technology is changing our world every day, and it’s not going to slow down to let any of us off the ride. To equip your business for the New Year, adopt one more resolution: understand that change is the new status quo. Embrace it as a fundamental driver of your success.

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