With the economy slowing down and more organisations moving into consolidation mode, this is the most opportune time to integrate change efforts
Turbulent market conditions, globalized value chains, technological advancements, product innovations and mergers and acquisitions have made ‘Managing Change’ a key competence for leadership across organizations. Nowhere has the quantum of change in the environment, in business and in society as a whole, been more widespread and pervasive than in emerging economies like India. Corporate India has experienced tremendous change, particularly over the last decade, impacting the foundations not only of business value chains, but also talent ecosystems and organizational cultures. These changes have manifested themselves in the arrival of global markets and competition, emergence of sunrise industries and the demand for new competencies to deliver on dynamic business imperatives.
Several organizations in India Inc. are in the midst of attempts to ‘institutionalize’ change efforts, many of which acquired an activity-based approach during the high growth phase. With the economy slowing down and more organizations moving into consolidation mode, this is the most opportune time to integrate change efforts.
It is now well known that only 30 percent of change management efforts across organizations really succeed. Evidently, change management hasn’t changed too much about how effectively organizations deal with change! The time is ripe to reflect on some of the common pitfalls to managing change, and how these could be sidestepped.
1. Buy-in from key influencers: Commencing the journey on shaky footing, in the hope that leaders will buy into the idea as progress is made, is a perilous proposition. Getting the buy-in of key influencers across the organization is essential for driving meaningful change; also, any change management initiative naturally requires the concerted application of a series of measures, mechanisms and actions. It is important to ensure that said measures/mechanisms do not become so complex as to usurp the place of actual outcomes. Keeping it simple works!
2. Different strokes: Change initiatives can come unstuck by offering a very limited perspective of how the change will benefit the employee/organization. Providing a rationale for change and appealing to what matters most to different groups, will get the emotional buy-in for managing change. One change intervention we experienced was what started as a sales training initiative and led to revolutionizing the approach of selling, role changes, and standard operating procedures, eventually led to revamped career paths, recognition programs, incentive plans, etc. Keeping the people affected by change, apprised of how it will impact their lives, career growth, learning and other opportunities, can help get the emotional buy-in to make change efforts succeed.
3. Spoon-feeding a ‘vision for the future’: Change managers often fall prey to the temptation of spelling out what lies in store, and furthermore, how the change will shape the collective future of the organization, which is obviously constrained by the thought and vision of the team in-charge of driving the change. Instead, involving the employees in co-creating the vision for the future would serve to enhance ownership for change.
4. “Others need to change - I’m part of the solution, naturally!”: It is imperative to orient leaders and employees alike on the proposed change and why it is important, to a level of granularity that allows them to see how they themselves must adapt to best align with the agenda.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate: No communication is too much communication when it comes to driving change. A segmented communication campaign that emphasizes key points related to the change initiative will allow the communication to connect.
6. Small wins count: Change managers can often plough on and wait for ‘big wins’ to report back to sponsors, leading to deflated momentum and loss of a sense of direction setting into the change initiative. Instead, early wins must be recognized, celebrated and adequately communicated so that the agenda does not lose steam.
7. Addressing the root cause, not symptoms: An incomplete analysis of the situation can lead change management teams to focus energies on symptoms rather than deeper, underlying issues. Such an approach may lead to short-term improvements, but invariably lapses to the old situation, with the change not being able to sustain itself.
8. Activity-based change management: It is unnatural to expect extraordinary transformational results from an initiative that you treat like any other ordinary program. However, this is exactly what change managers can sometimes do, especially if preoccupied with scorecard deliveries and deadlines. I recently dealt with an organization that was driving employee engagement as a training program for leaders. While this could serve as a good orientation to employee engagement, unless this was driven as an organization wide change effort to examine the delivery of employer value proposition and leadership, this would remain an activity based change initiative.
9. Superficial change – not rooted in values: Change managers can, in the pursuit of positive reinforcement and signs of change realization, tend to overlook the need for underlying shifts in employees’ attitudes and perceptions of organizational processes. The answer lies in anchoring the change agenda in the social norms and values espoused by the organization, and addressing employees through aligned change efforts to gain acceptance.
While these are handy and practical insights to managing change, good change managers are those who acknowledge that while change can bust old myths, new myths get created, and the success of any good change initiative involves getting buy-in to the new myths. Speaking of myths, here are some associated with change management which must be busted.
Myth 1: One man army can lead change: The belief that a single powerful leader adequately endowed with influence and craft can overcome the natural forces of resistance elicited by any change agenda. This is among the biggest stumbling blocks as change is necessarily a team effort. Buy-in and alignment is required at multiple levels, requiring a scale and scope of effort that is beyond any individual means.
Myth 2: Early resistors are bad for the change agenda: Possibly the most authentic source of dissonant feedback, it is important to lend resistors a receptive ear whilst continuing steadfastly on the change agenda. Failing to do so may fuel the push towards maintaining the status-quo, or even result in falsely compliant behavior, leading to a hollowed achievement of change. The ‘naysayers’ are key for enabling change champions to remain focused on areas that need work for institutionalizing the change.
Myth 3: Charisma and personality can drive change: Sound change leadership requires more than a simplistic prescription of power terms like ‘charisma’, ‘personality’ and ‘character’. While the role of communicators and sponsors of change remains critical, additional qualities such as modesty, courage and perseverance are essential to drive change that sticks.
Dr. Sujaya Banerjee is Chief Talent Officer at Essar Group.
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