Making change stick

A colleague recently used the phrase “habit and suspicion are the enemies of change”. It really resonated with me as a simple description of why some change programmes struggle to work effectively and ultimately fail in the longer term.

Many organisations are using the current period as an opportunity to catalyse change. And it is likely that most will fit into one of three categories:

  1. Those that embrace change and positively drive it forward to embed improvements in the longer term
  2. Those that initially embrace but fail to embed new initiatives and slowly drift back to the status-quo
  3. Those that resist changing right now and seek to move back to the old normal as quickly as possible

Longer term, the most successful organisations (whether from the point of view of customers, employees or in terms core performance data) will be those that fit into the first category above.

The first ‘enemy of change’ (habit) has obviously been broken by the current crisis, creating a (time limited) opportunity to embed new ways of working, however the second enemy ‘suspicion’ may be more difficult to crack. So what are the key points needed to help ensure positive changes stick going forward? Here are some thoughts:

Use purpose (a sense of something bigger) to set the rationale for change 

Many change programmes are based on a strong financial or logical business case. Often overlooked is the need to build a strong emotional business case for the change. If people (i.e. customers and employers) buy into the emotion of a proposed change (a lesson re-enforced by the current crisis), it is more likely to be a success, than if only the financial and logical reasons are focused upon. This is where the purpose and overall vision of an organisation can be leveraged to articulate how and why the proposed change will have a positive impact in the future.

Clearly articulate the vision for change and engage people in it

Linked to the above point – providing clear future visions on how changes impact on areas such as customer journeys and the employee experience will make a real difference to stakeholders. Aligned closely to a strong organisation purpose and supported by ongoing leadership commitment and communications, this will help to overcome embedded suspicion within an organisation. 

Lead the change from the top

It goes without saying, but leadership within an organisation (board and executive, as well as other key individuals) should be front and centre of any change programme. They should provide positive support for the proposed change, model new behaviours / culture and demonstrate what the change means in practice.

Resource and plan effectively

One of the reasons large scale change programmes fail to have the intended impact is because they are not resourced or planned effectively. Investment is needed in creating a Programme Management Office (PMO) with responsibility and the available resource to drive the programme forward. Specialist skills required to deliver individual elements of the programmes should be brought in to provide the necessary support.

Lead the change from within

Individuals will typically resist change that is ‘done to them’ but will embrace changes that they implement and initiate themselves. There is of course a need for a centrally driven programme and access to experts from out of the organisation, but engaging individuals from within the organisation as far as possible to own and drive the change forward, provides the best opportunity for embedding initiatives in the longer term.

Realise that change is not time limited

Change programmes by their very nature require project plans and timescales. But there is often a temptation to celebrate success too early and at the point at which a project plan is completed, rather than recognise that embedding change requires a focus over a longer term to ensure things are embedded fully.

A successful change programme in normal times will require all the above elements. But as organisations across the sector consider how they need to change the way they work in response to the current crisis and how they will emerge strong, the above will still be needed. This is particularly the case where changes have been implemented quickly over the last few months, but further work will be required to embed them and ensure they are effective in the longer term.

Taken together and implemented effectively, they can also go a long way to tackling those two key enemies of change.  

Written by Michael Appleby, Markets and Growth Director. For further discussion, feel free to email Michael.appleby@altairltd.co.uk or call on 07545 314 749 or contact Michael on LinkedIn.