Part 4 in a five-part blog series
Ultimately, organizations don’t change — people do. So, when organizational transformation fails, it’s often because leaders haven’t acted as role models for change, or because people within the organization are comfortable with status quo and don’t want to let it go. In virtually all cases, individual and collective behavior are the real drivers of change, not the new system or process.
As a leader, you need to personally embrace change early on and be acutely aware of how your people will be affected. Always remember that people respond to change differently and understanding their concerns and needs will help you to address them effectively. If leaders can show this empathy, it will go a long way toward helping people move into the new world.
Here are five tips to help build sustainable change:
- Have a robust communication and/or change management plan in place.
- Identify resistance and treat it as something that has to be understood and acted upon, rather than an obstacle that has to be overcome.
- Understand your people and how to motivate them to build a sense of personal ownership as the change cycle progresses.
- Make sure people have the opportunity to get the skills needed as a result of the change, for instance due to new technology or new ways of working
- Focus on building a culture that sustains change and adaptability.
Traditional change management practices taught leaders to think of change implementation as a linear path from the current state to a desired future state which represented the end of the journey – the ‘freeze, unfreeze, re-freeze’ model of change.
But change is a constant and a more sophisticated approach is to recognize the fluidity of change and the need to be agile in our approach to planning and delivering change. While a project plan is important to define timelines and milestones, change also needs to be seen as part of a cycle of continuous improvement.
Change agility has become essential to ensuring business leaders can cope with high levels of ambiguity and successfully embed change in their organizations. Companies that struggle to build adaptive capabilities often achieve short-term success, but fail to sustain and build long term value and consequently find themselves disadvantaged compared to more agile competitors.
An agile, iterative approach helps people not only adapt to the challenges of ongoing change, but also helps them to thrive in an ever changing world. Learning how to harness change in this way can provide an organization with strong and sustainable foundation to gain competitive advantage.
Next week: Embracing change, part five: Building trust so others will follow you into the unknown
Phil Merrell is the Director of Change Consulting, EMEA and Global Change Management Lead at Willis Towers Watson.
Gaby Joyner is the Director of Willis Towers Watson’s Change Consulting practice in Great Britain.