Change Management is More Than a Written Plan

“Change? We won’t be doing any of that, it’s way too hard!” Over the past 20-plus years of helping organizations change strategies and cultures, I have not heard this statement said out loud. Yet I can guarantee you that at some point in the change process, every CEO has had this thought! I see it showing up in the form of excuses to a variety of suggestions. For instance I will ask, “How will you make sure the breakthrough mindset will stick beyond the workshops?” I get back: “I realize we could do more, but look, we just spent all this time and money on these workshops. I will make sure my leaders support this mindset. We’re all set—thanks.”

Make the time, effort, and money worth it

No doubt change is hard. Study after study shows that a lot of change efforts fail to bring about results. No wonder the top suite is reluctant to jump into these activities. They know it takes time, effort, and money. How does a company whose leader envisions a new or different future make it happen? Cultivating that change, especially when you want to change behaviors and hearts, doesn’t happen just by decree, or project plan, or following an 8-step outline. It happens through relationships between and among coworkers.

Use the power of the network

What exactly does this mean? To understand what it takes to change a culture (values and norms), you also have to understand that culture is made up of a network of relationships. Everyone is constantly in connection with and has an effect on everything and everyone around them. This understanding is remarkably different from the traditional linear view of organizational change that many of us have been taught. That world goes something like this: Analyze where employee mindset is, form a strategy to change it, roll out the plan to management, leave them to it, meet monthly to follow up, and one year later, question management why things have not changed much.

Define your starting line and finish line

Acknowledging that I have left some assumptions on the table, my point is that changes in values or mindset requires more than a strategic plan for anything of significance to take place. As a matter of fact, having a plan is only the start of the process. Unfortunately, this is where most organizations start and finish.

Maintain a reliable and healthy system

I mentioned earlier that change happens in relationships. Let’s refer to these relationships in the organization as a larger “system.” When people see that their behaviors have consequences intended and unintended, they are beginning to understand systems. When they understand systems they, in turn, acknowledge that all actions they take affect the rest of the system. Consequently, they are likely to become more responsible for their actions or perhaps more thoughtful. This is not a guarantee, but it does become a point of leverage when initiating change.

Let me share an example that’s grounded in both research and my personal experience about the way significant culture change happens:

I had once entered an organization where top management was ready to fire the entire team and start over—a knee jerk reaction, granted, but their best solution to what they thought was the problem. They blamed the ineffectiveness of the team on personality issues and infighting. While it did exist, that was a limited view and solution. What was happening was a systems issue involving multiple departments.

Key actions where the system contributed to the failure of the project:

  • Some department managers were unaware of the team’s current initiatives
  • Department managers kept adding projects to the team’s already full plate
  • Lack of prioritization of requests
  • Finance was reluctant to address requests for increases in the already overspent budget to hire the additional staff
  • When update reports were sent to the C-suite, those members requested more meetings to explain the situation again

Key steps to building a fluid system:

  • Look at the bigger picture to see the problem as a whole rather than individual parts
  • Empower team members to give regular input and feedback
  • Problem-solve in a way that honors others’ perspectives
  • Develop a change process by goal setting as a team
  • Regularly measure performance and adjust as necessary

Envisioning that next phase of your organization and looking to build a healthy and reliable system? We want to help you sustain that system for many years to come. Gillespie Associates is your organizational development partner. Learn more today: