Successful Change: When Will We Learn? | ON THE MARK Successful Change: When Will We Learn? | ON THE MARK
30th September 2010 Admin

Successful Change: When Will We Learn?

I was recently talking with a new customer about the sad fact that most organizations’ approach to change is reactive, single dimensional, driven by project management mentality and aimed at achieving compliance — often based on a parent-child relationship with employees.

The truth is this severely constrained approach to change is the result of:

1) An entrenched and pervasive ‘change management’ industry;
2) Deeply embedded conventional beliefs and assumptions about people and change; and
3) Legacy patterns of organizational behaviors.

As a result, organizations view change, over-simplistically, as training, communication and measurement mechanisms – all documented neatly on a Gantt chart “between June and August”.

To achieve real, sustainable change demands a much different approach. It requires a shift from “managing” change to creating the conditions for change, engaging those affected to take part in the change itself. People want to make a real difference and giving them genuine opportunities to participate in change is when real change happens – when real commitment occurs.

Pay Now or Pay Later…but you always pay!

The choice facing organizations is whether to take a pay now strategy – building and developing change readiness in the organization and stakeholder groups, before making the actual changes; alternatively a pay later strategy emphasizes “quick wins” and installing changes, worrying about getting people to adapt to the changes later (usually through the traditional change management approaches of communications, training, ‘carrots and sticks’), it also accepts, as a conventional wisdom, that there will invariably be a performance dip – the classic “change curve” spouted by the proponents of change management. This approach usually sees change efforts continuing long after the actual changes have been introduced as organizations try to cajole, persuade and sanction employees to adopt the changes.

The “pay now” strategy prepares the organization to adopt and internalize the changes rapidly after they are introduced; it emphasizes accelerating and monitoring change readiness alongside plans for making the change, it requires strong, unwavering and visible sponsorship from start to completion. Additionally, there needs to be congruency between the change efforts and the desired change – stakeholders will look at how sponsors “walk the talk”. When organizations get this right, it leads to faster returns on investment and increased sustainability – with no performance dips or employee disengagement!

Strive for engagement, not just Communication

Real and sustainable change is a factor of engagement. Engaged employees make a contribution, and believe their contribution is important and has value; they are intrinsically motivated by their own sense of power, their own voice and are committed to making the change or organization successful. It is a myth that creating structure by way of training and communication plans and reward and recognition programs will result in conforming behavior. Communication programs and extrinsic motivators only work temporarily – there is a real wisdom that- “Carrots and sticks were invented for donkeys” – isn’t it time we tried something more sophisticated for our people?


ON THE MARK’s experience and passion for collaborative business transformation that’s supported by pragmatism, systems thinking, and a belief in people is unparalleled. OTM has been in business for 24 years and is a global leader in organization design consulting.

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