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14 Jan '13

Six elements of successful organizational change

Posted by T.J. Addington in change, change process, organizational change
Many attempts at organizational change are not successful. Often they flounder because they lack one of six fundamental elements for change to be successful. If any one of these are missing, the change process is compromised.

Conviction
Major change will not happen unless leaders have an absolute and unshakable conviction that it must happen. Usually this revolves around the need for the organization to re-envision for its next run, to adapt to changing opportunities or to address a specific threat. The conviction comes from the belief that if the organization does not change it will be in trouble. Many leaders understand the need for change but lack a compelling conviction that they must help the organization move through it. It is easier to ignore the need than to address it.

Without a bedrock conviction of the need for change, it will get derailed by doubts, anxiety and push back from resistors. Conviction brings the peace of mind in moments of doubt that you are on the right track and that this needs to be done.

Courage
If change were easy it would be common. It is not either easy or common. Suggesting that major change must take place takes a great amount of courage on the part of leaders. They know that if they are rebuffed or if the change is not successful, their own job is in jeopardy. Change takes the organization through some whitewater and uncertainty and it takes courage on the part of leaders to be willing to enter those white waters.

Risk
Change means that old methodologies and ways of thinking are jettisoned for new. Often those new ways and thinking are untried and therefore there is a certain amount of calculated risk involved. Good leaders have through through the risks and unintended consequences but there is still risk. The willingness to take the necessary risks requires the conviction and courage already noted.

Process
Because change is unsettling to most people the way in which it is approached is just as important as the change itself. People need to understand the why and the how and what the future looks like and while there is white water in the process there should not be chaos. Change is a process of thinking differently and acting differently and that takes time to assimilate. 

Unmanaged change, or change that lacks proper process will likely fail because the very staff who need to live out the change are not given the time to assimilate the change. Never underestimate the need for process. If there ever is a time it is when the organization is going through change. Much of the process is a continual dialogue with leaders and staff about what you are doing, why your are doing it and how it is going for them.

New Practices
The best way to assimilate change is to commit to new practices. Change is theoretical until you actually put it into practice. Not only that, but actually doing something new channels anxiety among staff about change into productive energy and as they try out new practices they don't seem as threatening as they did when it was theory. As those new practices are being tried out, leaders should be in active dialogue with staff as to how it is going, what their frustrations are and encouraging them to keep pushing into the new. Because practices are driven by habits it will take a great deal of time for new habits to be formed - for organizations it can take years.

Resolve
People and organizations naturally seek the familiar and comfortable and thus even with new practices being tried there will be a pull back to the old ways of doing and thinking. Some of this is natural as habits are hard to break. Some of this will come from resistors who just don't want to change. This is where the organization needs to feel the resolve of its leaders that the change is going to happen, that there is no going back and that no matter what pressure is brought to bear organically or from individuals that the organization is going to push forward into a new future.

It takes a unique leader to drive organizational change and successfully see it through. These six elements are fundamental to a successful change process.