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Key Ingredients for Successful Change Management

Victoria Formosa

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According to studies over the past 10 years, 70% of change management initiatives fail.

Originally published by John Kotter in his book Leading Change, the statistics imply that while research in the field has continued, improvements have not.  But why is it that change management is such a dismal failure in so many corporate situations? And what can be done to improve the likelihood of positive outcomes?

Research by McKinsey’s Emily Lawson and Colin Price in “The Psychology of Change Management,”[1] suggests that four basic conditions are necessary before employees will change their behavior.

Through research across 200+ companies attempting to implement initiatives that improve their corporate Health and Safety practices, we’ve seen firsthand how utilizing the core principles outlined by Lawson and Price greatly improves the likelihood of successful change management.

1. A Compelling Story – One of the reasons why people are extremely reluctant to change is the fear of the unknown. Change is a movement into unchartered territory, where the comfort of learned repetitive activities is replaced with the anxiety of new conditions.  Executives and management can reduce this paralyzing anxiety by explaining the real, uninhibited reasons behind the change.  If employees trust that the decision to change has been made for the right, logical reasons, they will trust that the decision was made by taking into account the pending unchartered territory.

2. Role Modeling – Ever heard the phrase: “lead by example”? Of course you have and it’s absolutely true. The most senior members of the change group must demonstrate through their actions, attitude and activism that the new way is the not just the right way, but the only way.  Employees are influenced by their fearless leadership, and the leaders need to recognize that only paying lip-service to change management activities yields sub-par results while real actions drive positive outcomes.

3. Reinforcing Mechanisms – One of the areas I find difficult to manage is the right mix of creativity and process. Too much process, as most of us have experienced, can yield bureaucratic results, while too little process ill-prepares management and employees for surprise, unfamiliar situations.  For executives who expect to successfully implement change initiatives to corporate health and safety, process is required because of the repetitive nature of the desired result.  If the change activity is to reduce safety risk by tracking leading indicators, front line employees need to know exactly what to do if a hazard is present and that process has to be known and employed by people across the organization.  For example, the process for identifying a hazard may be to 1) obtain evidence of the hazard, 2) send the evidence to someone who has the authority to make a change, and 3) follow a safe work procedure to reduce the risk of being affected.  Everyone in the organization should follow the exact same process when a hazard is identified, which reduces ambiguity and provides reinforcement of a successful result.

4. Capability Building – Skill, Will and Attitude. That’s the mantra we use when hiring at eComplianceWe only hire people who possess all three but that doesn’t mean we can’t all improve.  Change management requires people to have enough skill to implement the initiative.  As companies grow and become more sophisticated, executives must determine the skillset required to manage the particular change initiative and compare that to the organization’s abilities. If upgraded skills are required, then immediate steps should be taken to either provide skills training or hire appropriate personnel.

The constructive flip side of the 70% failure statistic is that 30% actually succeed.  Companies that are successful with change management get to enjoy the benefits of that effective change as well as knowing that they have succeeded in an area where many of their competitors have failed. Successfully implementing change isn’t easy and won’t happen overnight. Executives need to step up, demonstrate fearless leadership and work strategically for the change to prove fruitful. Most importantly, however, by being thoughtful about how your company follows the four ingredients for successful change management, you’ll be on the right side of the statistic.


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