In his book, Leading Change, John Kotter argues that “change sticks when it becomes ‘the way we do things around here’, when it seeps into the bloodstream of the corporate body. Until new behaviors are rooted in social norms and shared values, they are subject to degradation as soon as the pressure for change is removed.” The following five critical success factors should see your organization well on its way to ensuring sustainable organizational change.
1. Engage the broader organization, not just the change champions
At the beginning of a change process, a small team of people craft a vision for the future, creating a new language and sense of possibility they believe will inspire and motivate the workforce. It is important to find ways to engage the broader organization very early on in the change process. It’s also important for the change initiators to think strategically and tactically about how to achieve stakeholder involvement. For example, the degree of involvement in what is changing or how the change will happen may differ, depending on the nature of the change and the affected groups.
Too often the “change” team package the vision and change strategy as a final product and then attempt to “sell” the future vision and values to the broader organization, appearing to have the answer and the way to which others need to comply. This frequently results in a lack of commitment or even outright resistance to the change process.
In an article authored by Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers, they argue that, “We ignore people’s need to participate at our own peril. In our experience, enormous struggles with implementation are created every time we deliver changes to the organization rather than figuring out how to involve people in their creation … [On the other hand] we have seen implementation move with dramatic speed among people who have been engaged in the design of those changes.”
2. Identify and realign culture with the new vision
In many change efforts, the old culture is incompatible with the new vision and a new set of practices is required. The organization’s ability to sustain the change effort is closely linked with its ability to identify and realign the corporate culture. Organizational culture has been described as the psychological life of an organization. It encapsulates the unwritten values and assumptions, the shared meaning, and the pervasive ways of acting found in any group — “the way we do things around here”. These norms persist over time because group members teach these practices to new members.
… change sticks when it becomes the way we do things around here …
3. Collective identity and purpose
According to business theorist Arie de Geus, organizations that enjoy long-term success have a strong sense of identity, of “knowing who they are, beyond what they do”. People need to be connected by a sense of community and collective identity based on a shared vision and common values. A sense of community assures everyone that the community will support their efforts to achieve group goals, and provides meaning, motivation and focus. It fosters engaged employees, builds supplier commitment and enhances customer loyalty.
Most organizations have shared values, even if these are not formalized. When change occurs, it is a key leadership task to ensure that these values support the new vision and create a bridge between the known and the new. If the values need to change, it is important to deploy language carefully and consciously.
4. Align values and behavior
After the organization has defined appropriate values, the next stage is to align values and behaviors. The process will often start with a senior management workshop where required values and behaviors are identified, which then need to be clearly and consistently communicated and modeled throughout the organization — first and foremost, by the leaders themselves. John Gattorna, in his book Dynamic Supply Chains, argues that “great leaders invariably articulate the vision for their enterprise and then visibly live this vision day by day. This vision sets boundaries for everyone in the enterprise and helps to galvanize and focus the energy of the company.”
5. Institutionalize your systems and policies
Although it is critical to define the types of behavior that entrench the values, it is even more important to determine how the behaviors will be measured and institutionalized. You can’t manage what you can’t measure, so the organization needs to define a meaningful set of indicators and build these into its performance management system. KPIs for teams and individuals, along with appropriate rewards and recognition, should support those behaviors that align to the values, while clearly sanctioning behaviors that undermine them.
Employees commit to an organization both rationally and emotionally. Factors that affect this include their experience of their daily work, their team, their direct manager and the general leadership of the organization. Therefore the organization’s values and behaviors need to be enabled by numerous other cultural “levers”, such as organizational design, job/competency profiles, recruitment, operational processes, IT systems, training and development, and internal communications — only then do we really change “the way we do things around here”.
Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers, ‘Bringing Life to Organisational
Change’,Journal of Strategic Performance Measurement
John Gattorna, Dynamic Supply Chains
John Kotter, Leading Change
This resource has been prepared for general guidance on matters of interest only, and does not constitute professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained herein without obtaining specific professional advice. Competitive Capabilities International (CCi) does not accept or assume any liability, responsibility or duty of care for any consequences of you or anyone else acting, or refraining to act, in reliance on the information contained in this resource or for any decision based on it.