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Initiating a Change Initiative

Before we begin our change initiative, I've been asked to do some research on "change mistakes." (I figure not doing research probably is first on the list). What are the most common mistakes we need to avoid – before and after the change management takes place?

—Blowin' in the Wind, project coordinator, consulting/legal, Jakarta

September 16, 2013
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Related Topics: Dear Workforce
KEYWORDS change / future / initiative
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Dear Blowin’ in the Wind:

The person who asked you to research carefully before you begin your change initiative has the right idea. I say this because the literature indicates that about 70 percent of all change initiatives fail. Therefore the better you plan the greater your likelihood of success.

Let me start by stating the obvious: Change is hard. It takes us out of our comfort zones. In a work situation, it often means we temporarily become novices when we used to be experts, and we have a lot riding on demonstrating our expertise at work. So, the first fatal mistake you can make is to expect no resistance.  Someone showed me this equation that perfectly sums up the work ahead of you: D >P+NV.  This means that for change to happen, the dissatisfaction with the status quo (D) must be greater than the value of the new vision/direction (NV) plus the pain of the transition activities (P).

Take heart though, if you focus on the following things you have a good shot at overcoming change resistance:

Have a Compelling Story Why Change Is Necessary. I have seen people do this in two ways: Either by describing a better future or explaining why keeping the status quo is a bad business decision. Don’t go overboard in either direction. Employees won’t believe you if your future is too rosy or the current state seems too dire. Do make the discussion specific; what’s in it for them, their group, and the way they currently operate? 

Collaborate with Key Influencers Throughout the Organization on How to Implement the Change.While it may be appropriate for senior leaders to unilaterally conceive of the “end state,” it is equally as appropriate for middle-and lower-level employees to be included in designing how to implement the change. Remember, these are the folks that work the details every day. Involving them increases the chance that they will buy into the initiative. Second, it ensures that the end state will work in harmony with your other processes and procedures.

Communicate Widely and Often.You know the old adage that you need to say something eight times and eight ways for it to sink in. This especially holds true in circumstances of change.

The next most painful mistake people make is to assume that once the change is launched, the work is over. William Bridges, the author of Managing Transitions, explains that change may be quick, but real transition takes time. Too often, the leadership grows frustrated if immediately following a change people make errors or morale wanes. Thankfully good leaders know that helping people through the change must be part of the project plan. Ongoing training and coaching should be included and budgeted. Moreover managers may need help learning how to encourage employees through change rather than place blame for not moving fast enough.

The last serious mistake is forgetting to imbed the change into ongoing routine business. If people see your actions as a one-time event or a short-term project, the effort will lose momentum and pretty soon things will be back to the way they started. To sustain change make sure that you have created metrics that measure the new activities, have documented how the new processes work, and are holding people accountable for following the new plans.

Making change “stick” is simple but not easy. Creating a comprehensive change plan outlining all the steps, the timeline, budget and the responsible parties should allow you to avoid the pitfalls. 

SOURCE: Ellen Raim is vice president of human resources at Cascade Microtechin Portland, Oregon

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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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