By Madi Radulescu, MBA, ACC, Managing Partner MMM Consulting International (www.mmmconsulting.ro)

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Kar, French novelist

I spent the last two months involved in assisting teams of middle and top managers in change management projects. Three organizations, three industries, more or less similar reasons for organizational changes and most definitely the same issues related to people and their relationship with what is happening in an organization during times of change. And one conclusion – not new, but even stronger – today, change is a way of life.

 

Are companies tired of change?

Times of change ahead: new IT infrastructure, moving to cloud, quitting Lotus using Office 365, reducing paper work by 25 percent, providing integrated solutions versus products, working with designers and not only with end users etc. there are many reasons why we should engage our companies in changes of different scales, from the technological impact, lacking loyalty of clients, economic recovery or the need for flat organizations. But how many change initiatives have we faced in the last 7-8 years? For how many of those have we been really prepared?

Asking CEOs about how their company feels after all those years, in 2/3 of the answers I’ve heard: tired. People are tired to hear about “synergy”, “alignment”, “downsizing”, “rightsizing” etc. How come, if all the initiatives are meant to make their company more competitive and make sure it will successfully exist in the future?

For how many of this initiatives did the company have a well-prepared communication plan? Or, if that existed, how many times the top managers dedicated their time in quality conversations about what was really important: the need to alignment and not the alignment itself, the need to understand the change triggers and not the actions as such, the feelings of people on how their work and lives will be affected and not what needs to be worked out from the plan?

With one big teambuilding over the year we cannot assume that real and authentic communication takes place. With a short visit between two conf-calls with investors or the region we cannot assume that people will get connected to our vision, we can not expect that every six month something will change in the organizational structure and our employees will be fully comfortable in not knowing if they will find a place in this organizational chart or not. So, many times, people get “sick and tired” no matter how good looking a new initiative may look like.

Making major change happen in any company isn’t easy. But except some responsibilities in implementation nothing can be delegated: the leaders of the organization must take care about the dynamic, the energy and the engagement towards the envisaged result. All the rest is project management.

 

What’s difficult about change?

There a lot of literature related to change management. In an article of HBR is mentioned that “…despite the huge investment that companies have made in tools, training, and thousands of books (over 83,000 on Amazon), most studies still show a 60-70 percent failure rate for organizational change projects — a statistic that has stayed constant from the 1970’s to the present.”

What is so difficult? I would dare to say: the managers’ ability in dealing with soft aspects of change is seriously underdeveloped. Many parts of change management processes are outsourced to consultants that design processes. Result is a focus of people affected by change on “criticizing the work of the consultant” instead of “finding a workable solution and generate better results”. Change management becomes one more work-stream for every project, instead of a new way of thinking about how to get something accomplished.

Good change management is about good quality conversations that puts together hearts and minds and allow people to express views and feelings. Explain, explain, explain, ask, ask, ask and only then act!

However, soft factors don’t directly influence the outcomes of many change programs. Visionary leadership is often vital for transformation projects, but not always. The same can be said about communication with employees. It isn’t easy to change attitudes or relationships. So if this is extremely important but not the only thing important, what’s missing?

Another reason for making change management difficult is the ability of the management team to integrate change initiatives in the business as usual plans. To what extent are the plans for change integrated into the overall project plans, and not put together separately or in parallel? If change management becomes part of the business plan and not an add-on that is managed independently, then the whole change becomes easier.

Having said this we see that hard factors are as important as soft factors. Integrating business as usual with change initiatives require a new set of measures and key criteria for success to appear in the scorecard of the company. What do we actually measure in order to follow-through consistently? With how many people can we really implement with the required speed? How productivity needs to be supported in order to include the whole impact of the change in the company’s results?

Making organizational change happen effectively needs to be a core competence of managers and not something that they can pass off to others, no matter how experienced consultants are.

 

Why is change management bigger than leadership?

Meeting with leaders is important for every employee, especially during times of change. However, reality shows that, in nowadays organizations, the CEO is rarely seen and sometime the functional manager appears in a WebEx conference three times per year or during a two days visit full of formal meetings.

Leaders modeling behavior and talking the case for change can indeed help the company to transform. But most people in large organizations catch a glimpse only briefly about the whole change process and the impact on the company and eventually on their lives. Capturing the essence of this impact and connecting to people affected or involved in organizational changes, transferring this in day to day life, this is the major skill leaders at all levels in organizations should learn.

Most of the employees accept the fact they need to put effort in their day-to-day work and deliver results. Sometime exceptional results!  However, only very few accept easily that they need, starting tomorrow, to act differently, to collaborate differently, to use technology or reporting differently, to change the way we look at clients.

Change times require change leaders. During changes the company feels a different kind of pressure, stress and communication. Coordination requires different bonds, understanding and speed. If preparing for future requires leaders ability to describe that future and sell their vision, when changes strated some other leadership traits needs to be clearly visible: ability to listen, ability to read between the lines, ability to deal with people fears, ability to comfort and push, to keep direction and be flexible and most of all presence. As the need and the speed increased, change management embraces leadership. It is simply bigger. Is about our new way of life.