People’s inherent resistance to change continues to be one of the most challenging aspects of management, whether you are part of a large multinational or a regionally focussed SME, and is one of the most researched and theorised management topics around. Yet, despite all the focus, McKinsey and Company report around 70% of significant change programmes still fail to meet their objectives.
Change is never easy, but is almost always an inevitable requirement for a successful business in the competitive markets of today. Companies were not traditionally built to be agile and adaptable: they were built to be disciplined and efficient through standard procedures and a hierarchical power structure, and so for most, change management remains a discrete event or project.
There are endless numbers of well documented reasons change projects fail: management complacency, a poor culture not aligned with the company mission, failure to gain buy-in, poor communication, lack of training … and the list goes on. There is however an emerging factor which is set to undermine even those organisations who address the issues above: change fatigue.
Change fatigue manifests itself in change-weary employees, failing to commit through lack of motivation or cynicism: ‘Here we go again.’ Not only do companies now have to manage the process of change, they must seek to address the legacy of failure which has come before.
The ultimate objective is to embed a culture such that change is natural, and continuous improvement happens without targeted effort. However this cultural shift cannot happen overnight, so how can change be successfully delivered with this additional factor?
The three key aspects for successful change management
Change management, regardless of the organisation, involves three key aspects: the employees, the management and the idea. Often organisations focus on only one, or at most two of these elements, failing to recognise the negative effect the third can have.
The simple truth is that people do not resist change, they resist being changed. Capturing the hearts and minds of employees is a critical part of the journey for change that results in sustainable improvements. Involving and communicating with employees from the outset of the transformation has long since been the most basic step, addressing concerns and answering the inevitable who, what, when and why. This alone however may no longer be sufficient to grease the wheels of change. Change is no longer an intellectual exercise.
The cultural shift towards employee engagement has meant that now, more than ever, change is an emotional exercise as much as it is one of the mind. Engaging employees emotionally and activating those feelings of ownership, participation and enthusiasm are far more effective and powerful than simply informing them and taking them on the journey.
Failing to make a compelling case for change and clearly defining the objectives will ultimately undermine any efforts to engage employees and deliver change. We have always done it this way, they say. Without sound reasoning, a good idea will simply be dismissed as yet another fad or phase and change fatigue will continue to imbed itself.
It is critical to ensure that change is not simply for change’s sake, and that both the benefits from and change and the consequence of not changing are clearly understood and communicated.
Management teams often adopt the top down approach, the ‘do-as-I-say’, and they lead via instruction rather than collaboration, falsely believing their managerial position makes them better placed to dictate the shape of change than those employees around them. The managerial enthusiasm to deliver change quickly must be tempered in favour of laying the foundations of successful change, ensuring that the idea is robust and the employees are ready and engaged.
Throughout the journey the management team must facilitate and champion collaborative efforts, effective communication, the celebrating of wins and recognition of efforts to maintain momentum in the programme, alongside ensuring that the skills and resources are in place to deliver on the objectives defined.
Get it right first time
When it comes to change management, learning by doing is rarely an appropriate strategy. With each failed attempt or lesson learned along the way, change fatigue becomes further embedded and a greater barrier to future successes. Engaging with experienced change management professionals, whether that be as mentors to the management team or as a change delivery team, can make the difference between success and failure.
If you face challenges with your change management initiatives, contact us today to see how our experienced management consultants can support you on your journey.