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

March 18, 2020 by  

McKinsey has an influence model that speaks of four building blocks of change. This 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 on it and the organization having the systems and processes to make this happen.

While these models vary in terms of specifics, the practitioners and experts agree on the following:
1. The need for effective communication to ensure a sense of urgency as well as the vision ahead.
2. The need for leaders to be more involved in change efforts and act as role models for the rest of the organization.
3. The need for systems/processes to ensure the change is transformed into a habit.

In my experience, there are four principles that require attention. If these are not managed correctly, they 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. In addition, concerns and fears need to be addressed and compelling reasons why the change will be beneficial to everyone is another key to effective communication.
2. Leaders who are seen as “false sponsors” because their attention is divided and their interest waivers will prevent the change from happening as they need to model their commitment and demonstrate their belief in its necessity.
3. Progress that rarely is measured formally, and when it is, looks only at lagging indicators is not positive. Better to look at the forward movement and support that continuance with the appropriate support and timeline.
4. A continuous launch of change initiatives and priorities that weigh down the organization and make focus impossible will not move change forward. Change is becoming the new norm and everyone needs to get used to that even though it is not very comfortable for most people. Again, appropriate support, adequate time and great encouragement will greatly assist forward movement.

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

Principle One: 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
Why it happens: One-way communication means the recipients of the information are left alone to interpret it for themselves (so the same information can be seen in different ways by different people, depending on their previous experiences, current mindset, etc). Additionally, attention spans vary so greatly from person to person that 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.”

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/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.
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 and demonstrate that to 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
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 measurements make it difficult to show the impact of the transformation process and how it is progressing.
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 might need to do to keep moving forward.

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 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. As an old African proverb states, “Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”

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