Let’s say you need to change your strategy, make an acquisition, introduce a new IT system, or any other important change. How can you set it up so that the change is most likely to succeed? Based on 30 years of helping leaders with major change, here are six key success factors.
1. Make sure all your executives actively sponsor the change. Often, one executive’s area will be the focus of the change, but don’t let the other executives abdicate their responsibility. You need all executives supporting the change both in public and in private. A banking client was changing their core IT system. The bulk of the work was in IT, but it required support from all other areas. Rather than seeing it as primarily IT’s project, the other executives needed to ensure high priority support from their people. When one of the other executives saw it as IT’s, instead of a corporate priority, the change bogged-down. You cannot let that happen.
2. Communicate individually with each key executive and manager. It’s simply not enough to get managers in a room and announce a change initiative. If it’s a critical change, you have to make sure each key person understands why the change is important to the organization and to them individually. The only way to make that connection and to get the buy-in is to meet with people individually. It’s too easy in a group meeting to nod one’s head in agreement, and then walk off with no responsibility.
3. Put in place a fail-safe accountability process. Specify who is going to do what and when it will be completed. Develop a mechanism to regularly track progress. Have a process to review progress, validate success, and put in place actions to get anything behind schedule back on tract. You’d be surprised how many executives and managers are not used to leading an accountability process. Demonstrate how it needs to be done and provide them with coaching if needed.
4. Deal with resistance effectively. The question isn’t whether you’ll get resistance, but how you will address it when it occurs. So be prepared by anticipating what the resistance will be and how to address it. The best way to is to acknowledge the resistance and reframe it. It is a big mistake to squash the resistance or to ignore it—that simply drives it under the surface where it will fester. Think of it this way: Resistance is not bad—it’s natural. It’s a sign that people are taking the change seriously – that’s good. The skills involved in handling resistance are learnable and using them effectively will make a huge difference in being able to move change forward. Those skills belong in every manager’s toolbox.
5. Communicate successes, progress, and challenges. Keep people informed. Take a lesson from revolutionaries who always seize the means of communication early on. Communication is a powerful lever, don’t let rumors and naysayers take over the messaging. Provide regular updates of successes, let people know where you are in the process, and share the difficulties too—it helps to legitimize the communication. A manufacturing client had only been communicating positive news. In doing so, they were losing credibility because people knew the difficulties. Only when they began to realistically communicate did the scuttlebutt diminish.
6. Never rely on HR, lower level managers or outside consultants to lead the change. They do not have the authority to legitimize it and drive it successfully. Senior management always must take full responsibility for leading major change and be fully accountable for its success.