4 Principles of Change: What can go wrong and how to do it better!

October 7, 2021 by  

Here are four building blocks of change. This particular model says that if a change is to happen in an organization, it will be a combination of the leaders being role models, the people having a clear understanding of and alignment to the change as well as the capabilities to act upon it. In addition, the organization will have the systems and processes put into place in order to make this happen.

While these models vary in terms of specifics, the practitioners and experts agree on the following:
 The need for great communication is to ensure the sense of urgency as well as the vision ahead and why this will be of benefit for everyone
 The need for leaders to be more involved in change efforts and act as role models for the rest of the organization
 The need for systems and processes to ensure that the change is transformed into a habit

There are four principles that require attention. If these are not managed correctly, they can give rise to deeper issues that impede success in even the best-performing organizations:
1. Communication that becomes more of an advertising campaign with unidirectional messaging targeted to the “what” and “how” rather than the “why” behind the change. Employees need compelling reasons why the change is going to be of benefit to them as well as for the company. This is extremely important because change causes a huge flow of rumours and those rumours and concerns need to be directly addressed so that more focus on be put on how to make the change happen as smoothly as possible.
2. Leaders who are seen as “false sponsors” because their attention is divided and their interest waivers. Leaders need to be committed to the change and model that behaviour in order for others to get on board with the process.
3. Progress that rarely is measured formally, and when it is, looks only at lagging indicators. Appropriate time must be allowed to let people get used to the changes and feel up to speed with any technological or other new ways of doing things.
4. A continuous launch of change initiatives and priorities that weigh down the organization and make focus impossible. Yes, change is the new normal and those who are not willing to embrace it will get left behind, however, it needs to be done in steps, in an appropriate time frame and with great support and encouragement.

Below are ways to combat such situations and improve the odds of success.

Principle One: employ engaging communication
What usually happens: Communication becomes more of an advertising campaign with unidirectional messaging targeted to the “what” and “how” rather than the “why” behind the change. Employees need to know why!
Why it happens: One-way communication means the recipients of the information are left alone to interpret it for themselves. When this happens, the same information can be seen in different ways by different people, depending on their previous experiences, current mindset, etc. Additionally, attention spans vary greatly from person to person so a large percentage of the communication may be lost. Communication focuses solely on the “what is next” and the “what to do”, which means that recipients are not guided through the “why” of the change. Thus, a sense of urgency is not created, and people are less open to and motivated by the “what to do next.” This can greatly slow down the progress toward the desired change.
How to do it better: The way to ensure engagement and alignment is to work through an interactive communication tool. Participants can use discovery-based methodologies in a structured way to reach conclusions themselves as to why the change needs to happen, and what they need to do to make it happen. These tools have to be company appropriate and moment-specific and must be leader-led to ensure the right conversations are taking place. Such tools, like engage maps, are structured around the three themes of “Why the change”, “What is the new framework or model and what does it mean for us”, and “How will we get from where we are to the new desired state.”

Principle Two: true leadership
What usually happens: Leaders who are seen as “false sponsors” because their attention is divided and their interest waivers.
Why it happens: In many changes and transformations, leaders focus on “business as usual” and delegate the change process to departments like HR or IT, or to external consultants. This produces a disconnect. In addition, leaders are often not aligned with the changes themselves and, therefore, when their teams face issues or questions, their responses and actions are contradictory to the change. If the leadership is not fully on board with the change and its transition, it will be very difficult for it to happen.
How to do it better: It is key that leaders be seen as role models. In order to do that, they must be the first ones to align with the change and, therefore, be the first ones trained on tools such as engage maps. They also need to take ownership of the change for their people.

Principle Three: the need for measurement and monitoring
What usually happens: Progress that rarely is measured formally, and when it is, looks only at lagging indicators is not beneficial to a good outcome.
Why it happens: Many transformation and change efforts focus on the very end indicators such as the percentage of new digital clients in the bank, which become lagging indicators which are only measured after it happens. Sometimes these types of measurement make it difficult to show the impact of the transformation process.
How to do it better: It is important to be able to track both result-oriented indicators as well as activity indicators, as they can reveal a leading effect. These leading indicators can also identify the barriers to transformation and give us “heat maps” as to where the positive action is happening and what else we may need to implement.

Principle Four: the essence of focus
What usually happens: A continuous launch of change initiatives and priorities that weigh down the organization and make focus impossible

Why it happens: Change fatigue is a common issue in organizations: “This year’s change initiative is ….” tends to be a joke for employees. The complexity of the tools and models of an organization can make it difficult for employees to know what is expected of them.

How to do it better: Limit transformational actions to the ones that are crucial and require the employees’ full attention. Link these actions to the rest of the changes in the organization, such as the compensation system changes, reporting shifts and organizational moves.

It is worth investing the time and resources in a change management people process that looks at these four principles and implements ways to ensure the right impact. Also, remember that change is the event and the transition is the process and without an effective transition process the change will not occur.
As an old African proverb states, “Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” Make sure you have an appropriate process in place and be sure that the leadership is committed and modelling the behaviours necessary to convince the employees that this will be a good change for the organization.

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