Transformational change is excruciatingly complex. These big changes can’t be done incrementally, and can’t be made totally safe. Once you make the leap, you can’t change your mind and go back to the old ways of doing things if it’s not going well! People, processes and technology will all be impacted. Simply put, your organization will be doing different things in completely different ways.
As the principal designer of the Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM), Don Harrison has been called on to help implement (or fix) thorny large-scale, complex changes in organizations worldwide for over 35 years. He’s worked on everything from cultural changes, M&A integrations and shared services, to re-structuring and ERP and technology changes.
Now he answers the top 5 questions he hears from clients like you on how to overcome the challenges of a transformational change.
- We have so many changes going on at one time, how do we ensure the transformation takes priority?
“Today’s organizations are ‘crazy busy.’ There are countless projects in various stages of completion, all chasing the same limited resources. That said, the cold hard truth is if your transformational change is not seen as one of the top 2-3 priorities by your leaders, over the lifecycle of the project, it is dead in the water. Sorry to be so blunt, but that is the reality of the situation.
Prioritizing isn’t just a word—it is a behavioral commitment. Senior leaders must maintain laser focus on the implementation over the entire lifecycle of the project. Once the change is designed, your executives cannot step out and expect others to make the change happen “out there.” They need to be active and visible, and continue to Express, Model, and Reinforce their personal commitment to the change for what is going to be a minimum of 2-3 years. If you don’t have this level of commitment, my advice is not to even start.”
- How do we get Sponsors to do what is needed?
“Project success depends on the demonstrated Expressed, Modeled, and Reinforced commitment of all the managers and leaders who have direct reports that are impacted in some way by the change—not just the individuals who “sign the checks” for funding. This cascade of behavioral commitment is the single most important factor in the speed of implementation for a transformational change project.
How do you ensure your Sponsors are doing what is needed? First educate your Sponsors on their role, then use Sponsor Contracting to get commitment to action. The “contract” is an exchange of offers, wants, and needs that ensures Sponsors are clear on what is expected of them at critical points in the project lifecycle. Change Agents need to contract with Sponsors on an ongoing basis. I’ve often said that every failed project can be traced back to poor contracting. We devote a lot of time to teaching Sponsor Contracting in our AIM Accreditation Program. In my experience, it is the most important skill a Change Agent needs to have, and be comfortable with.”
- How should we handle resistance to the transformation?
“Given the radical nature of transformational change, you can expect a high degree of disruption. The more disruptive the change, the more resistance you will face. This resistance will be both overt and covert, and if unmanaged, it will slow down the implementation. What’s important to understand is you will never combat or overcome resistance to change. Instead, you need to take the time to surface, understand, and then manage it. Resistance in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad, but it needs to be managed. Far too often I see organizations that spend their time and energy trying to battle the resistance, instead of investing in Readiness.”
- What do we do when Senior Leaders are the source of the resistance?
“One of the fundamental principles of AIM is to expect that the highest level of resistance will come from those people that have the greatest motivation for things to remain the same. More often than not, this is going to be mid-to upper-level managers, because they are the ones who have the most to lose in terms of current and future power and prestige.
It’s critical to treat every level of the organization, from the senior leadership down, as Targets first. There is absolutely no point in trying to create Readiness at the lower levels of the organization if the people in power are resisting the change and don’t have agreement on the Definition of the Change. Your Sponsors won’t do what they need to be doing as Sponsors if they are still in Target mode themselves!”
- 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; year one to get a baseline, and year two to analyze the differences. 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!”
Few changes are easy. Transformational change, though, is exponentially more difficult. What you can do: follow a repeatable process like the Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM). You’ll minimize business disruption, use your resources more efficiently, increase the speed of implementation, and mitigate the cultural and organizational risks that are always present. As Don would say, “simple, no?”