Businesses are constantly changing. The nature of the changes varies. It depends on the economic scenario, competition, new executives, technology trends, inherent problems, inefficiency, growth or decrease in sales and new projects, among others. As a result, change initiatives emerge for structural changes, digital transformation, reengineering, process improvement, culture changes, etc.
Not everyone knows how to implement changes, and consequently several casualties of war happen, morale suffers, and the desired results never happen. For any business leader, one of the most important keys to success is managing necessary changes well. A well-known article by Michael Beer and Nitin Nohria from the Harvard Business Review cites that 70% of all change efforts fail.
But it does not have to be that way. I think all business leaders that want to change the direction of a company are looking for better results. But change cannot be imposed from one day to the next. Change takes time and trying to cut corners to implementation seriously affects results. These are the steps I recommend to undertake a successful transformation.
- Make the case for change. All changes start with an idea. Whether it is the CEO, a division manager or any other person, the first thing is to explain why change is necessary, what events or trends me the status quo unacceptable. It is important to explain with facts and real numbers how different elements affect the company and the possible consequences of not taking action. Expected results should be explained as well. If the changes make sense, if they respond to the presented challenges, if there is a sense of urgency, then it will be easier to add others to your change effort.
- Broadly discuss and develop a shared vision. To accomplish great things, teamwork is required. And to drive team results, people need to be part of the discussion. The discussion may or may not include the current structure leaders, but it requires people with experience and leadership within the organization to generate exchanges where different threats and points of view emerge. It is impossible to design changes well without a holistic view. Having all the information on the table, the team must look for consensus and develop a shared vision about how to make the changes and what they should accomplish. Discussions can take time, but the change project will be strengthened after considering the team’s opinion.
- Create a team of change leaders. Several times changes are handed over to the human resources, strategy or technology departments, depending on their nature. However, changes must be driven by organizational leaders. It is difficult for people to buy into change if the boss is not proactively promoting it. If a change affects the entire company, the CEO should be the main champion; if it affects a division, the division chief should promote it. If it affects some people, they should be talked to personally. In addition to a team dedicated to implement change, the leaders at different levels must be very clear about the reasons and the objectives behind the changes so they can explain it to colleagues and direct reports.
- Establish key messages. Messages that drive adoption must be design based on the case for change, including the facts that support the need to do things differently. The messages must be customized for different audiences within the organization. Giving examples of changes applied to the different work areas will help people understand and connect to the message. Moreover, it is extremely important to put yourself in the shoes of different groups in the company and think about their possible worries, concerns, and reasons for refusal. People can be addicted to the status quo, and they need help accepting change. Transmitting a sense of urgency and the possible consequences of maintaining the current situation is key to address this.
- Communicate at all levels. When companies have hundreds of thousands of employees, leaders cannot always have contact with everyone; and that sometimes makes workers feel distant from the vision and decisions of the company. But when it comes to big changes, it is crucial for leaders to directly communicate them. This is ideally done through open conversations that promote open participation from the audience instead of monologues. Using several channels, prioritizing two-way communication allows for people to clear their doubts, and for leaders to get feedback which is great to improve your change plans and to really involve people in the change effort.
- Establish indicators and promote cultural changes. The only way to know if the change initiative was effective is to measure results. Whatever the change objectives-, short and medium-term indicators should be established. This allows you to monitor progress and celebrate early victories to keep driving change. In general, the goals of big changes take time, usually around 3 years to accomplish. Therefore, it’s important to not claim an early victory with the initial wins and keep pushing change through communication and promoting the values behind the changes as part of the organization’s evolving culture.
We can generate positive change by following these steps. And even though change is usually difficult, and there are always surprises along the way, it is much easier when people are part of it. Because at the end of the day, companies are not only there to make money, but also a key part of the life of each employee, and if we don’t involve the people, changes will not yield the desired results.