A change initiative is an investment in a business to increase efficiency, profitability, and reduce costs.
Successful change initiatives are crucial to keep company culture and operations competitive in today’s market. Strategically, successful change initiatives foster collaboration, increase morale, strengthen leadership, and develop opportunity within a company. Operationally, change initiatives improve the rhythm of business, continuously evolve behaviors in all levels of leadership, and most importantly get buy-in from all internal and external stakeholders.
Effective change initiatives require proper time, progressive leadership, and support from all stakeholders. Research shows well-designed and led change initiatives are six times more likely to achieve their goals and implement results that last. This article will outline the components of successful change initiatives, the challenges leaders face, and what is needed as a leader to launch a well-designed and lasting change initiative.
Building a successful change initiative
Embracing and promoting change can be compared to building a bridge from the past to the future. An effective change leader is not only concerned with the new pieces of change but how those pieces will be intertwined with the existing culture to be leveraged and preserved. Those enduring quality pieces of the legacy culture should be recognized and intertwined into the desired change initiatives to create the culture of the future.
Dr. John Kotter, thought leader and professor at Harvard Business School, outlines eight requirements of leading a change initiative,
- Establish a sense of urgency within the organization
- Build a guiding coalition for support
- Develop a strategic vision and how it will benefit others
- Communicate and then continue to communicate the vision
- Remove obstacles and empower others
- Create and celebrate short term wins
- Build on the change and weave it into the culture
- Weave the change into future initiatives to embed the change
Where change initiatives can go wrong…
Current research shows that over 70 percent of large-scale transformational change initiatives fail. Failure can often stem from misunderstandings of the initiative, lack of communication, lack of leadership engagement and excitement, and/or employee resistance.
When change initiatives are not implemented with effective leadership and proper care/consideration for all involved parties, struggles with employee retention, customer service, and productivity will persist.
Leadership in change initiatives
Pressure is put on leadership to swiftly implement monumental change initiatives in a fiscally challenging and rapidly changing environment. The days of top down, traditional leadership styles are coming to an end.
As Peter Drucker, the man who helped shape the operational foundation of modern business, put it, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” Being a change leader requires a shift from old traditional leadership styles to an inclusive and collaboration lead-by-example style.
Higgs and Rowland, authors of ‘The Quest for Change Competence,’ describe a new model of leadership, coined change leadership. Change leadership is the ability to influence and motivate others through personal advocacy, a shared vision, increased communication, and facilitation of resources to build a solid foundation for change.
Effective change leadership occurs when the leader does all the following:
- Provides a clear vision that details the reason for change
- Creates urgency and communicates the explicit benefits to the company
- Involves all levels of the organization
- Enlists stakeholders as change agents who can support and champion the change
So, let’s break this down…
Where does this pathway to successful change leadership begin?
The first step toward is a vision for the future with tangible metrics and measurable goals. Implementation of a true change vision begins with a leader who can influence and inspire action. They communicate how the organization will be operationally different and what the future will look like; enabling others to let go of outdated beliefs, embrace the vision, and follow leadership into the future.
The second step is making the change initiative part of the culture, which is one of the most difficult pieces. It is difficult to change culture through mandated training programs, directives, and leadership speeches. How leadership acts outside of those meetings and trainings is closely observed by employees and what often drives culture changes. For change to last, leaders’ behavior needs to be consistently modeled and reinforced until the desired change becomes the norm within the organization.
What should the vision for change include?
The vision typically includes the rationale for change, the benefits of the change to employees, and the benefits to the organization. This is the time to reflect on the micro and macro effects of change.
For example, X change will help employees do X job more effectively, increasing morale and productivity. X change will help leaders find more ways to create opportunity for their employees and run operations smoothly. On a larger scale, in the macro environment, the organization will thrive and attract business and allow us to swiftly deliver the best products to our customers because of this change.
How should the vision of change be communicated?
The vision of the change must be explicit and continuously communicated to ensure the initiative stays on track. The conversation must flow both ways, both coming from the top of the organization as well as from the bottom of the organization. Ensure all parties are part of the conversation to ensure buy in and swift implementation at all levels.
Employees should feel comfortable voicing any concerns with the initiative and feel as though their buy-in matters, because it does! The messaging should be in alignment with the organization’s vision, values, and strategic goals. The messaging to employees must include how the change will be measured and by what metric each department and individual will be measured.
Who should be recruited to help champion this initiative?
Seek out those who regularly attend meetings and have provided feedback and suggestions for improvement in the past. Successful change leaders look for those who will challenge and critically analyze the change and initiative to ensure the most efficient results are brought forward.
Look for those that are advocates for change to help communicate the vision. Look for employees at all levels to ensure no experiences, insights, or opinions are not overlooked or included in the vision. Change initiatives are based on teams and teamwork, they rely on everyone’s experience and opinion.
How do change leaders create urgency around the initiative?
Successful change leaders motivate and encourage stakeholders to be actively engaged in the process by continuously demonstrating value. It is dangerous for a company or organization to maintain status quo, change leaders are needed to pilot collaborative and innovative platforms for the future state of the company.
First, capture the attention of critical organization stakeholders with the need for change. Then, create urgency by highlighting the need for change and putting it to a timeline. Outline and measure the phases of the change initiative to sell the importance of acting now.
How do you involve all levels of the organization?
The average business faced with a change initiative will find 20 percent of the workforce is usually behind the change and will help drive the process forward, roughly 50 percent will be noncommittal and relatively quiet throughout the process, and about 30 percent will resist change.
To address the 80 percent that may question or resist change, seek out input and involve everyone in decision-making. This is where it is crucial to step away from outdated ideas of leadership, top-down directives will not be productive in this space.
Innovative leaders are needed to engage and motivate all stakeholders. Employees should feel comfortable bringing ideas and concerns to the table. Deliberate attention will be paid to how the workforce learns to react, adapt, and change.
The 20 percent onboard can also help motivate and spread the message of the change initiative. When input is heard and incorporated and excitement builds around the future of the organization, those questions or opposed to change will be more open to hearing and embracing the mission.
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