Most Organizational Change Management (OCM) professionals know plenty of theory and have plenty of experience. But why is it that even when we bring this wealth of OCM knowledge and talent to bear, change still seems so hard?
Consider these four reasons why change is difficult:
1. Change is Personal – We can argue all day about the meaning of “organizational change” but the term itself is misleading. Organizations only change as the individuals within them change. Each stakeholder weighs the benefits and risks of adapting from their own frame of reference.
It’s not easy for Change Agents to predict or influence this very personal adoption process. That’s why stakeholder mapping, champion involvement and individual-level feedback are so critical.
2. Good Change is Good – Bad Change is Bad: Change Agents (especially at the Sponsor level) owe their stakeholders two things: clear, motivational descriptions of positive change impact and honesty around the negative aspects of the change.
Try to communicate the good things about your change from as many frames of reference as possible using “what’s in it for me?” examples. Change Sponsors should also avoid sitting on bad news. I once had a Sponsor finally admit that job cuts were part of our business case ten months into a twelve-month initiative. He lost credibility by appearing to duck a negative consequence.
It’s OK to glow about a positive future as long as you follow the primary rule for change communication: Be honest.
3. Change Means Loss: I have a brilliant psychologist friend in Atlanta named Byron who once told me: “…all change is first viewed as loss”. He’s probably right. Leaving behind the comfort of our day-to-day process takes time to get used to. It’s also disruptive and distracting.
The best way for Change Agents & Sponsors to help with this challenge is to answer people’s most pressing concerns, offer clear steps to prepare and give people time to adapt.
4. Sometimes We Blow It: Recent customers of Netflix, Facebook and Bank of America have something in common: they all experienced the disastrous impact of a poorly-executed change. Each behemoth forgot to ask stakeholders before they “upgraded” their “service” and lost loyal customers as a result.
Prevent these classic OCM mistakes by:
- Gathering and heeding the warnings, needs and opinions of key stakeholder groups.
- Engaging the top, middle and base of your organization in defining and executing the change instead of “hammering it in”.
- Executing a diligent approach to defining, planning for and executing your change instead of treating change as “just another communication and training thing”.
Change Agents and Sponsors are more likely to succeed if they face the difficulty of their mutual challenge up front.
Questions for Chatter:
- Have you seen an otherwise good change go awry because Change Agents failed to emphasize the best aspects of the change to stakeholders?
- Is there such a thing as a completely good change or does every change have at least some negative elements?
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