Considering a change project?
Change has become the mantra of the day in most corporations. As a newly appointed CEO, the first thing you might do – after the mandatory ‘listening exercises’ – is embark on an ambitious programme to transform your organisation. But grand promises often lead to disappointing results, with about three quarters of change projects failing to meet their stated objectives.
If you’re a leader considering starting a change project, avoid following the old adage: ‘stop thinking and start doing’. Instead, stop doing change and start thinking about it (at least for a while). Executing the change is very important but try asking these five questions first:
1. Why change?
Change is not always necessary. Don’t fall into the default position of starting a change project just to try to show investors that you are doing something, because your competitors are doing it or to create some distance from the previous regime. Think about whether change is needed at all, what might stay the same, and how the organisation can improve what it is already good at.
2. What to change?
Often new leaders think everything needs to change in an organisation – but this is rarely true or realistic. Throwing yourself into multiple concurrent change initiatives at once will consume much of the energy of the organisation, creating widespread dissatisfaction and stretching resources too thinly. Instead of having grandiose ambitions, focus on a small number of well selected change projects which most people agree need to happen. This will ensure the important things change and that the change is delivered properly.
3. How to change?
Don’t assume that change should happen quickly and that you must tick off a set of achievements in the first 100 days. Most change projects can take many months, if not years, to take place. Give longer timetables for change processes to be rolled out and allocate resources accordingly – a flashy launch of a change project might look impressive but it is only the beginning.
4. When to change?
You might begin change when others in your industry do – for example, by adopting a new technology because everyone else is doing it. Keeping up with industry standards is necessary in some cases but in others it can lead to a ‘hearing effect’, where competitors lurch from one path to another, making it difficult for a company to develop its own unique approach. Instead of looking to competitors to work out the timing of change, look more seriously at a wider range of indicators.
5. Who will do the change?
Change efforts do not have to be led from the top. Most transformations fail because they face resistance from a range of stakeholders. Instead of seeing yourself as the great ‘hero’ of an epic change attempt, find efforts that are already under way in the organisation and seek to protect, support and scale them up. By doing this, you can harness intelligence on the ground and turn previously resistant stakeholders into true advocates of change.