Don Harrison Answers Your 5 Questions on Transformational Change

Posted by Paula Alsher on Wed, Jan 14, 2015 @ 12:32 PM

After over 30 years of change management consulting, Don Harrison, President of IMA, has a lot to say about implementing transformational change.  In IMA's recent webinar on The Human Side of Transformational Change, Don shared his tips on how to improve execution success of these big, complex changes. He touched on topics such as: Ask Don Harrison, Expert in Change Management


  • how to define the transformation in behavioral terms
  • getting the Sponsorship needed for transformation 
  • and how to align multiple leaders to eliminate silo behavior

At the end of the session, Don answered client questions.  Here are the top 5 questions, and Don’s informative answers:

Question 1:

Do you have any tips on how to get leaders within an organization on board with change?

When dealing with Senior Sponsors the most important question any Sponsor has is "can I trust you?" Sponsors need someone close to them, whom they trust, to help them plan the specific actions they need to take to express, model and reinforce commitment to the change with their own direct reports. When leaders object to the time required to become a good Sponsor, Don tells them, "The only people you need to focus on are your direct reports, not the thousands of employees in the organization!"  Very few Senior Sponsors have the intuitive skill to do all the required actions on their own-- if they did, they would be doing it already. So if you are a Change Agent, you need to be able to guide leaders to be good Sponsors of change by using the Sponsor contracting process that Don teaches in his AIM change management certification sessions.

If you are starting to work with a Sponsor and you don't already have trust and credibility based on past history, it will take some time to develop a trust relationship.


Question 2:  

What tips can you give Change Agents to engage middle management? 

To be successful in implementing a transformational change, you literally have to cascade the change in a "physical" way.  This means the senior executive who authorizes the change program needs to focus on his or her direct reports and not move past them until their behavior demonstrates that they are fully committed.  You can then continue with the next layer of management, who should focus on the people directly under them, and so on, as you move down the organizational food chain.  Most people assume that CEO's and executives should have natural charisma and amazing leadership skills and therefore, everyone will jump on board with the change.  But this is not what happens.  SLOW DOWN ON THE FRONT END to ensure each and every management layer is expressing, modeling and reinforcing the change.  

Also be prepared to manage resistance continually, especially in the middle and upper levels of management. The paradox of enterprise-wide, transformational change is that you will get the most resistance from those whom you most need to serve as Sponsors of change.

These mid-level leaders are no different from anyone else.  Until they feel that they know what the change means to them personally, and what is "in it for them" personally, these managers will continue to act as Targets, instead of leading the change with their own direct reports on a daily basis.


Question 3:

How do you sustain change in an organization with a culture of low accountability and/or low engagement?  

You can only sustain these changes through applying "implementation-specific" reinforcements that are tied directly to the desired new behaviors you are seeking to build. You build commitment to transformation by using reinforcement to motivate people to leave where they are, and do "different things, in different ways," as opposed to stay in the present state and do the same things in the same ways as they are doing them right now. The reinforcement to change must also be in a significant ratio of positive rewards to negative consequences. For example, there must be more reinforcement, both formal and informal, to transform, than there is punishment for not transforming. As Don says, "Your current reinforcements are working perfectly to get you the outputs you see today. If you don't change the reinforcements, you will not get behavior change, and you will not be able to sustain the transformation."


Question 4:

What kind of metrics have you used to show progress?

You absolutely cannot use your annual financial reports for measuring success.  If you do, it will take a minimum of two years to effect any change.  The best metrics we have travel at the speed of light.  So how do you measure speed of light?  You have to measure behaviors!  Managers have to recognize the behaviors they are seeking to see from their direct reports.  This means you have to define the project in terms of behaviors you seek to see.  These will be different for all the different groups impacted by the change program, and for each workstream. You have to measure the human elements to get to the business outcomes!  


Question 5:

How do you build a culture that is capable of constant transformation? 

Change Agents need to re-assess their thinking about their role.  Most Change Agents believe their goal is to successfully complete this transformational change.  But that should not be their only prime directive; their goal should also be to use this change as an opportunity to increase the system’s capacity for implementation.  You have to achieve a level of implementation maturity in order to be capable of constant change.  Implementation capacity must become a core capability of the organization that is married with innovation, process improvement, collaboration, and other critical capabilities. If you can build that capability, the monolithic cultural barriers will no longer stand in your way.  The goal may seem to be to only successfully achieve the business objectives for this change, but the over-arching goal must be to increase the system’s capacity for implementation at speed. 

Watch the Managing the Complexity of Big Changes Webinar Now

Topics: Sponsorship, Transformational Change, Culture, Leadership