Nov 22 2018| Leadership | Values
by Phil Eyre Founder
Powered by technology, the pace of change is increasing and communication, ideas, expectations and people travel faster than ever before. This creates an exciting environment, full of opportunity as well as challenges to ensure that change is embraced successfully. Yet research shows that 89% of change projects fail. We gathered 20 leaders from Guernsey's business, charity and government sectors to explore what - in their experience - creates successful change.
Here are nine of their observations. What do you think and what would you add?
Whilst we all recognised that for most people, the initial response to change is caution or resistance, in fact, most actually want things to improve - to change for the better. We desire better work, improved lives, a better service for our customers and more. Leaders have a responsibility right at the outset to recognise that, ultimately, people do want change to happen. It is incumbent on the leaders to ensure that the vision for better - the big "why" for the necessary change - is clear and believed. Some finesse is needed, for example where some are negatively impacted by the change. But a starting point that "everyone hates change" will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Communicating the reasons for change and setting the context in which change is happening is important. Life and work are always changing, so setting the framework for a particular change project or scenario is important to help people understand why it is happening and how they are impacted. Clearly and regularly communicating that there is a beginning, middle and end to a particular change project helps people to connect with it.
Leaders can too easily assume that everyone else knows what they know and what they are thinking, when in fact key elements might not be clearly understood by the organisation. Communication, therefore, needs to be regular. Communication also needs to be tailored to suit the various audiences in the organisation; some need one to ones, others need 'town hall' style communication etc. Communicating in one way will not work.
One leader described how he had made a change in just one area before launching further change initiatives. This went well, creating belief in the business that change could work well, laying a strong foundation on which to lead further initiatives. This is more successful than attempting to change everything all at once.
Accept that some things will go wrong, be honest enough to recognise when that's happening, stop the process and be open enough to communicate that with the business. Admitting mistakes when things go wrong is the stronger course of action and will lead to better relational capital in the long term.
One leader described how they have used the phrase "park the past" to help the business move on from past hurdles, problems and habits. They also described how initial resistance to change is normal; leaders need to push past the push back, inspiring and leading their people forward into new ideas and practices.
In today's world, change is in fact business as usual. Adopting this mindset will make specific change projects easier to bring to the business. A different perspective on this is that for many leaders, "business as usual" is a hurdle to leading successfully through change. Strategy meetings, offsites, board meetings, change meetings are too-quickly followed by 'normal business', which results in communication breakdown and lost momentum. Leaders need to create time to think and lead change, which can feel counterintuitive when going through a change with the extra work that creates.
One leader expressed their experience that technical prowess is a poor indicator of change-success; you can recruit competence and technical skill but successful change requires the right behaviours and values of the people involved. This idea was expanded by Margaret Heffernan at the recent Centre for Army Leadership conference; the top performing teams are those with strong 'mortar' - relational capital - between the individual bricks. Teams that trust each other, are open to giving and receiving feedback, that hold each other accountable are those that perform. Actively seeking people with these values when recruiting makes for success.
Change, by nature, involves uncertainty and therefore risk. Encouraging and empowering people in your organisation to take appropriate risk will create strong conditions for successful change. Rather than waiting to be told prescriptively what to do, fostering an environment where people bring their 'intent' rather than wait for orders will create success.