Organizational Change: Three Keys for Lasting Success

It’s a tough challenge to successfully manage change while maintaining day-to-day operations, yet in today's fast-paced global business environment change is inevitable. Here are 3 keys to lasting success.

“We know why projects fail; we know how to prevent their failure – so why do they still fail?” Martin Cobb 1996

Ask most people in your organization if they’d be willing to change for personal benefit and most will say “yes”, without hesitation.  If you ask if they’d be willing to change to benefit the company, perhaps a few will say that it depends on the situation, but most will still answer “yes”. The reality, however, is most people won’t actually make the changes – even when they benefit personally.

Ben Watson, a principal in the Digital Enterprise Solutions Business Unit at Adobe describes the integration of a new customer experience management culture as a “…fundamental paradigm shift.” The critical challenges were: “How do we enable our employees to deliver that experience? How do we ensure we have consistency across all of the touch points?” But as you probably know, getting people to make needed adjustments is often difficult, even when the organization is committed: “We enlisted our CEO’s support…but even that only helps so much…”

Lasting change. This is the dilemma for most organizations. It’s a tough challenge to successfully manage change while maintaining day-to-day operations, yet in today’s fast-paced global business environment — whether it’s a result of mergers, acquisitions, downsizing, cultural change or fast growth — change is inevitable.  Resistance to change can wreak havoc on an organization both in terms of team productivity and the balance sheet. Unfortunately, traditional business school approaches to change management (such as remedial training classes) rarely yield long term positive results.The good news is that forward-thinking managers can learn to identify and avoid the tactics that don’t work, and replace them with effective methods that produce lasting positive results.

Let’s take a look at three of the most important factors for successfully managing organizational change.

1. Focus on what happens after people say yes

  • It’s always a mistake to think that all people within an organization will have similar responses to change, even when it appears to be positive. From a C-level vantage point, it’s easy to see a successful merger or acquisition as an exercise in creative finance and organizational chart design.  However, managing organizational change always involves successfully managing people, not just statistics. Recent findings in behavioral research show that even individuals who are openly supportive often fail to apply the change.
  • The key to optimizing productivity and unleashing the potential of strategic initiatives is to identify what individual team members need to make the leap from saying “yes” to acquiring necessary skills and applying needed adjustments.  Once that’s accomplished and implemented, rapid and lasting behavioral change can occur.

2. Add human behavioral factors to business skills

  • Traditional B-school approaches to change management focus on best practices in marketing, project management, problem solving, decision making, business strategy, communication, etc.  Developing these areas is important so that organizations will know what adjustments they need to make to excel, but without addressing human behavioral factors, organizations will keep producing the same results.
  • Studies show that 70% of M&As are considered unsuccessful by key stakeholders, 68% of IT projects fail, and most training is forgotten within 6 weeks. Lack of attention to human behavioral factors explains why 81% of professionals say “yes” to change and then take no action to support it.

3. Equip managers to be Change Agents

Most organizational change is managed using strategic communication that’s noticeably similar to marketing a new product.  The “launch date” is announced, lists of features and benefits are published, and white papers are distributed to educate the market about why they need the product. To succeed, change needs to also be managed on the neurological level that affects human behavior.

Efforts to manage change using a one-size-fits-all approach are doomed to failure for the simple reason that people’s brains are hard-wired differently.  However, recent discoveries in the field of neuroscience have proven that even resistant people can change using specific proven techniques that managers can learn to facilitate.  The result is a permanent breakthrough in personal effectiveness that benefits the individual as well as the organization.


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