NUGGET : People’s belief in (and your telling them) the value of a change does NOT guarantee that a change will be implemented – in fact, it may make the change harder to implement! Don’t just sell a change, make sure the people affected help customize it for your organization and environment.

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It’s a pretty widely accepted fact that 60% or so of change projects don’t deliver intended results. There’s lots of room for improvement! What can you do about this?


Let’s set aside change programs that shouldn’t have been started in the first place (and there are many of those) and focus on change initiatives that have the potential to add real value and even have lots of industry success stories. These are the changes that Maria Gondo and John Amis focus on in a fascinating paper that appeared in a recent peer-reviewed article.*


Let me put you into a typical change scenario. You want to bring in a new process or program. It’s something that has worked in other places. In fact, it may even be fashionable – a “best practice.” Being a savvy change leader, you and others in your organization have carefully selected the change.


You bring it in with lots of communication showing what it is, how it works, how it has helped other organizations,

and why it is important to adopt it in your business.  You survey people who will implement the change and find out that they think it is a good idea and you engage them in refining the goals and implementation plan.  In academic jargon, it you have created “high acceptance.”  Good, a great start.

 

But, as Gondo and Amis point out, this acceptance could be the downfall of your change.  WHAT?? How can this be true?  Their answer: because when people accept a change at face value, they are often less likely to pay critical and reflective attention to the unique challenges of their OWN implementation.  This is especially true when they are accepting it because it has worked elsewhere and they believe in the overall “idea” or abstract concept (for example, the idea of “teamwork” or “honest communication” or “statistical process control”).    In other words, their belief in the change (it has high face validity for them) may doom implementation.

 

When they are first conceived, changes are often scrappy experiments in which both leaders and implementers struggle to solve a problem or bring big idea to the complexities of their own world.  This struggle causes the people involved to be super-conscious, to reflect, to do trial and error – to be engaged mentally and emotionally with the change – thus shaping it for success while they work in their own context.   However, when the changes begin to prove themselves and spread to other organizations (think Total Quality Management, diversity programs, step by step change management programs), they become concepts and routines that have face validity but are easily pasted onto current practices.  “Yes we are good at teamwork” becomes the way to adopt the language but not necessarily the essence.  This has happened with many worthy changes.

 

The authors conclude that “acceptance” and “implementation” can actually be at odds with each other…. Unless, while they are implementing and until the change becomes a new routine, the people involved consciously reflect and adapt the concepts to their reality.  This requires a delicate balancing act.  For change to happen, people must see how they and their organization are similar to others who are implementing something new.  This gives them the confidence that the new thing will actually work.  However, for long-term adoption to occur, they must recognize how they are different and thus must adjust the generic practices so that they work in their own context.  There is probably a fine line between actually implementing a change and co-opting it such that things change on the surface but really stay the same (e.g., I can say that I am following the steps, being better at teamwork, when in reality, I have just renamed actions I would have taken anyway).

 

 

*“Variations in Practice Adoption: The Roles of Conscious Reflection and Discourse,”  Academy of Management Review (2013, Vol 38, No. 2, 229-247).

 

 

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