• Matt Moynihan

Are You Ready for More Change?

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

Ahhhh....the good ole days!! Remember when you didn't have to put a mask on when entering a public business establishment? How about not having to cope with the rolling stock outs at the grocery store? Elbow and fist bumps are now the new normal. Hopefully the Mondays we were all once used to will come back some day, but something tells me they are gone forever. Not to say that is necessarily a bad thing. I have spoken to numerous people who are enjoying the new normal the pandemic has/is creating. Others, though, are finding it somewhat difficult to transition.

The pandemic represents one of the more extreme cases of change yet it also shows how easy it is to throw our sense of normalcy out of balance. Every new day brings change in the form of new opportunities and problems to solve. Certainly, the change ripples associated with the pandemic will not go away for a while. The question for leaders and managers is whether your business is built to take on new opportunities and problems that change will surely bring your way.

The statistics looking at the effectiveness of change management initiatives vary considerably. Depending upon the reference, failure rates can range between 25-75%. The reason for such a wide range is due to the definition of failure. Sources that utilize a definition to describe levels of failure (i.e. moderately successful, somewhat successful) tended to show lower failure rates compared to those references that had a black and white definition (success or fail). So, a safe conclusion would be that approximately 25% of the companies feel they have effective change management initiatives while 75% of the companies feel they have varying success and could certainly improve.

So why do so many companies appear to struggle with managing change effectively? There are numerous variables that can impact change management success however, in my experience, it comes down the following three factors:

1. Tools, Processes and People

The three essential components of any organization are tools, processes and people. Tools may include Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, processes may include supply and demand planning, while people usually include training and career growth. The best companies have strong capabilities for all three categories and effectively utilize them to reach their desired goals. These components are a prerequisite for effectively digesting and pivoting an opportunity or problem change has created. If one or more component is lacking then inefficiencies, disorganization and disengagement can result. Organizations lacking in any one of these areas are essentially trying to manage change with one or more hands tied behind their backs.

2. People Would Rather Not Change

It is well known that it is human nature to be uncomfortable with change, which can result in resistance. In today’s environment people are extremely busy both at work and at home. It is difficult to find time to consider new ways of doing things. Change can often increase workloads and stress levels, threaten job security and reduce authority. Resistance can be amplified in organizations where people are working extra hard to overcome deficiencies with inadequate tools, processes or training. Left unmanaged, resistance can minimize alignment and buy-in from all levels of the organization, customers and suppliers. Teamwork ultimately suffers and inhibits progress of any change initiative.

3. Leadership

It is so easy to point the finger at the person at the top. But the truth of the matter is that strong leadership is essential. It is the role of leadership and management to ensure that the tools, processes and people are all balanced, providing value and integrated. Engaged leaders and managers can provide valuable support by listening to the organization about concerns and challenges while re-enforcing the importance and priority of the change initiative. Leadership teams that are aligned, walk the talk, and proactively work to resolve gaps or fail with tools and/or processes, will create a culture that can quickly adapt and pivot to changing business dynamics.

People Embrace Progress

Of the three factors mentioned above, perhaps the biggest challenge is getting people to be more open and flexible to change. Dean Lindsay who is a motivational speaker on change claims that “people tend to resist change but will usually embrace progress”. He defines progress as being a result of profit, prestige, power, pleasure, pain avoidance and peace of mind.

At the company level, it is usually easier to understand the progress impact of a change event. Moving into a new market may increase revenues and profitability. However, the overworked supply chain team may view this change as increased pain because another item is being added to an already overflowing plate. Further discussions and decisions focusing on options to redistribute the supply chain workload is required to create the opportunity of progress (possibly prestige, power or individual profit) with the supply chain team members.

It is important to take time to listen to stakeholders and where possible, take action to create a sense of progress for them. If managers and leaders do not have an accurate pulse on the stress points for tools, processes and people, then it is likely that some form of resistance will be encountered. It is critical that a wide net is cast on how a change management initiative will achieve progress throughout the entire organization.

The What and the How of Change Management

So how then do you ensure that progress is being achieved at both the company and organization levels? Let us first look at the definition of change management. Perhaps the most simplistic definition available is as follows:

The management of change within a business or similar organization

The “What” in this definition is change and, as indicated earlier, is a constant that will always be a force to be dealt with. The complexity of change will vary but any organization needs to be prepared to deal with the problems and opportunities change can present.

The “How” in the definition is management. Leadership/Management play a key role in determining how to manage the opportunity or problem a change event has created through the effective use of tools, processes and people.

However, if we want people to be more open to change and hence improve chances for success, then it is important to present the change in terms of progress. A simple expression would look as follows:

In general terms, the change management bubble represents the traditional project management aspects (with tools, processes and people), while the progress management bubble includes tasks and decisions to ensure the company and people will experience progress (profit, prestige, power, pleasure, peace of mind, pain avoidance). The simultaneous management of change and progress needs to happen through all stages of the change management process.

Lets take a closer look at the new market segment example and see how to apply this concept during the planning phase of the project. The change management aspect would include completing a project plan, establishing milestones and determining resources. The progress management aspect of the planning phase would include validating the business case (profit) and incorporating feedback from key stakeholders, including the supply chain team (pain avoidance, prestige, peace of mind), while establishing buy-in with the organization through communication sessions. Similar approaches would be applied during the other phases of the change management process.

The Road to Improving Success

So back to the original question. Are you, as a leader, confident that your team and organization can realize new opportunities while dealing with your fair share of problems? Do you have the right tools, processes and trained people to create an organizational culture that is efficient, organized and engaged? Does your leadership and management team focus on gaining alignment while walking the talk to lead by example? If you answer yes to these questions, then well done! Chances are you have a strong organizational culture that will serve as a foundation to position your company to successfully manage change. If you paused on any of these questions, then you have some extra work to do to reinforce your culture.

However, a strong culture does not guarantee great results. Linking the project management aspects with progress management is essential to achieve key milestones while proactively managing resistance that can pop up along the way. Ensuring all phases of your change management process includes both project and progress management aspects is essential to generate desired results.

Interested in learning more? Check out this post on using the APEL framework to help manage change and progress for any situation.

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