Guide to Implementing Successful Change Management
31st March 2023

Leading Change: A Guide to Implementing Successful Change Management Practices

4 Minute Read

Takeaway: In our experience, change is a journey beginning with leaders recognizing that they may not know all the answers. Successful change is not about the pseudo-co-creation of change strategies baked by senior leadership and sold to the masses in the organization. Authentic collaboration is liberating for leaders who undertake the path less traveled to discover more about themselves and their teams while creating real change that lasts.

We often hear, “Change is hard for organizations.”, “People don’t like change.” Is it really true? Statements like this are generated from limiting belief systems about change, propagated by traditional change management practices. Here, we argue that there is nothing successful about (traditional) change management techniques.

Importance of Change Management

Traditional change management is about tricking leaders into believing they are the drivers and owners of implementing the change and manipulating staff across an organization to “get on the bus.” These traditional manipulative and coercive tactics are diametrically opposed to ON THE MARK’s invitation to create and deliver collaborative change. Authentic collaboration is liberating for leaders who undertake the path less traveled to discover more about themselves and their teams while creating real change that lasts.

What is Successful Change?

Successful change is not about the pseudo-co-creation of change strategies baked by senior leadership and sold to the masses in the organization. That feels like manipulation or coercion to people on the front lines. Instead, the hallmarks of successful change management are integrity, structure, methodology, authentic collaboration, and inclusion.

Understanding The Change Management Process: The Paradox of Change

At the heart of the paradox of change, we experience three things:

  1. There is not a single leader on the planet that would not like to reduce the lag time between decision-making, execution, and the results or the impact on the business.
  2. There is a conflict between wanting people to adopt the execution and ‘change’ fast and the method of decision-making. In the need for speed it is perceived that it is quicker for a small strategic group of people to decide and get it out the door fast. What follows is considerable time and effort convincing and cajoling people to accept and adopt the decision(s) – a process they have not been part of.
  3. Not enough leaders understand the practical first principles of good strategy which includes an organization’s ability to answer the question, “How do we create value or impact?” and align its people around the answer to this fundamental question. We often find that the wider organization has an inconsistent or unclear answer to the question of how they create value; it is left to different interpretations, assumptions, and people simplifying it for themselves.

Implementing Change in an Organization: Change Management Techniques and Approaches

In our experience, change is a journey beginning with leaders recognizing that they may not know all the answers. Here are five key wisdoms to remember when going through a change management process:

  1. Simplify Strategy: What we often find, is an inherent desire of organizations to be all things to everyone. We have over-complicated the situation if we cannot describe the strategy on a single page. An organization’s inability to say, “Here are the things that we will NOT do is more important than creating a lengthy 120-page strategy document which leads organizations to do a lot of things half-heartedly. Therefore, if everybody is not fundamentally clear on the value that the organization creates and the choices about what we do and what we do NOT do, people make their own interpretations of strategy. Thus, they make their own choices about what to do and how to do it. What follows is that leaders spend significant effort trying to control and ‘rein it in.’ The result? They resort to ‘telling’ people into successful change management. This is what we call ‘done to’ rather than ‘done with’ change.
  2. Avoid fragmentation: The enemy of a business’s success is fragmentation and sub-optimization. Unfortunately, we find they separate out all the strategy, change initiatives, and delivery activities in transformational change programs. At the heart of that disconnect is a divergence of views between individuals on where they are headed. We avoid this disconnect by modernizing how a business operates, from strategy through implementation, as one integrated experience.
  3. Team-led design and delivery: We believe that “People support what they help to create.” If people are not meaningfully involved upstream in the big decisions, potential implications, and assumptions they make about those implications, then why do we expect them to magically ‘buy in’?

People do not ‘buy in’ to change. People do not ‘buy in’ to solutions. Instead, we live by the principle that people support what they help to create, which demands participation and involvement from the very beginning. We find that leaders are owning and controlling too much of the process. By the time the wider workforce is involved, the leader is asking them, “What’s your opinion?”, having already designed the solution. Herein lies the skepticism that people experience which often feels like manipulation or coercion.

If people are genuinely involved in the process, not only do you get a common language about what we are trying to do, but you also get a common and thorough alignment about the path we are taking. This translates to making specific choices with implications, including conscious choices about the things we will not do anymore.

  1. Create a representative mix: When a problem statement is shared only in the Boardroom, there is a risk of ‘group think’ amongst the small and (possibly) not diverse group of leaders. Leaders can expand their understanding of the problem, do real root cause analysis, and test their early assumptions. This is accomplished by creating a broader, more diverse representation of people in the organization to test assumptions, data, or insights – which can expose more than what the leader or C-suite originally thought.
  1. Trust the wisdom of the crowd. By bringing people together and expanding one’s focus group continuously throughout the process, people start to truly OWN the change. They live in the new world authentically as they have been involved throughout the process. You cannot TELL people into positive perception. Only THEY can internalize it and make their own choices. From our experience, people let go of the old and adopt the new ONLY when they are involved in its creation and get a chance to reflect and test their assumptions.

Avoiding Failure

There is no judgment against the individual leader themselves who are caught in the trap of traditional change management belief systems and practices. It is the work system that they have learned and been conditioned into. ”How can I involve a workforce of 500+ people in strategy development? Surely that takes a long time!”

Time is a central paradox of change. The trade-off is pay now or pay later. Pay now means investing in genuine collaboration and collective effort upfront. It does not have to be months of effort. It takes structure and discipline to facilitate that process. The alternative is to pay later. If you take the well-trodden path of making the important decisions at the top and imagine it to be a quick fix to tell the organization what to do, you’ll end up paying later.

The leader pays later downstream with weeks, months – if not years – of effort trying to convince and cajole people into doing what they are told. The workforce response is often to ‘consent and evade.’ Said simply, they listen, try to interpret, and end up doing something different. Either because they don’t understand it or don’t agree with it. What results is the perception of “our people are resistant to change.”

Traditional Change Management is Not The Answer

Authentic involvement and participation drive trust and ownership. Manipulation through words, slogans, posters, and town halls are symptoms of chasing a lost cause. There is nothing successful about traditional change management. Many leaders and organizations are continuing to wake up to this reality. Want to try something different? Learn more about our approach to change: Accelerated Change Readiness (ACR).

Rahul Lama is a Support Consultant at ON THE MARK. OTM is a global leader in collaborative operating model modernization that creates real change, fast. OTM’s passion for collaborative business transformation is supported by pragmatism, systems thinking, and a belief in people that is unparalleled for 34 years.

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