I’ve never seen the research to back up the often quoted “70% of change projects fail” stat, but anecdotally I’ve come across enough examples of change that didn’t work to agree all’s not going smoothly in change land.
Crack that problem and I’d say you’ve done a lot. So let’s think about it for a moment.
The Diligent Change Manager
You get your best people on your challenge, you design a great solution, you consult as many of your staff as possible. And after all that you and your team sit down to design an implementation plan. Because your people are good at what they do, it’s a good plan. It’s takes into account timelines, budgets, stakeholders, roles and responsibilities, communications to the affected departments. Governance issues are taken care of, there’s even a feedback meachanism. And to top it all off, dependencies are identified with levels of redundancies for the most pressing elements. And only when you have all of that in place — maybe more depending on your industry — only then, do you sign off on execution.
And it goes off smoothly. All that planning paid off you tell yourself, because, well, it’s working. And it keeps working. Until it doesn’t.
Gradually, Then Suddenly
In my experience change projects don’t run into problems fresh out of the gate. They fail, to quote, Hemmingway, “gradually, then suddenly”. The change becomes familiar. Small parts that some people didn’t buy into – a process here, a system there – don’t get implemented consistently. That lack of consistency spreads to other parts of the change initiative and before long the initiative hasn’t so much failed as just been passed by. It’s gotten overtaken by the day-to-day, by new concerns. And then several months later you look back and wonder whatever happened to the idea you and your team spent so long developing.
Buy-in Is a By-Product of Something Else
Of course many will put the demise of the change down to a lack of buy-in. “It failed,” they say, “because the people most affected weren’t bought into the change, and without them it was doomed from the outset.”
And while that’s kinda true, it’s not the whole story. The reason it’s not is because it assumes that buy-in is the golden elixir of change projects. That’s why most people in charge of change projects consult widely to get that buy-in. For the diligent change manager above it was their third step. And they did that because the current wisdom is that’s how we get buy-in.
But what if the current wisdom’s wrong? What if buy-in is a by-product of something else?
The Many Levels of Involvement
You see, that nebulous concept of buy-in is the by-product of something much more concrete. And it’s this: involvement. If you can involve people in a change, they feel part of that change. And that involvement can take many forms. It can be an involvement in identifying the kind of change needed; it could be involvement in developing the change solution, it could be involvement in designing the execution plan, or involvement in putting the plan into action
Or it could be involving the people most affected by a change in all of those stages.
Change and the Six Attributes
This website is going to be overhauled in the next few weeks and when it does it’ll focus more on the six attributes. But this blog goes out before then so think of this as a sneak preview.
Why is it a preview?
There’re six attributes, but there’s three that are relevant to change management: resilience, genuine curiosity, and create leaders. That last one is the one I’ll focus on for the next few paragraphs.
You see, change fails when we think the only opportunity of the change project is to implement whatever change we have in mind. It’s not.
The opportunity of a change project is to create leaders of others who can lead the change. And that’s one of the six attributes. Thinking of change through the lens of the six attributes makes it, not easy, but easier. It means seeing the change as a vehicle to grow the people in your business. And doing that means two things happen: you create a pipeline for leaders, and you stand a good chance of your change project taking root.
Though I’d stand by getting people involved in change projects as sound advice, that’s not what I’m offering in this blog. As you’ve probably guessed, what’s more important is the mindset of seeing every single chance you interact with your team as a chance create leaders.
Every single chance. And a great chance to do that is the prospect of creating leaders of change.
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