This month’s Harvard Business Review is all about the workforce for the future. Outstanding articles that include topics such as failures of the leadership training programs, globalization, robots and future of work, the obsolescence of performance management systems, etc.. But one article in particular caught my eye as it was near and dear to my heart as a change consultant. The tag line read “If the system does not change, it will not support and sustain individual behavior change-indeed, it will set people up to fail” (HBR, Oct.2016, p. 54).
As a change consultant, I work with companies who are in the midst of transformational change efforts and so often, their approach to change is to implement a commoditized change management toolkit that promises to help organizations and their people adopt to change. Generally speaking, these organizations develop the communications, think through stakeholders and often times, analyze the impact to employees. Although all the above solutions are relevant to change efforts, in and by themselves, they are insufficient to drive sustainable change. For real change adoption to occur, alignment of all organizational systems in conjunction with the proposed change needs to take place. Consider the following common barriers to change and ask yourself, are your change teams, project teams, organizational leaders evaluating and addressing these barriers?
(1) Unclear and incongruent direction on vision, mission, values and strategy which can often lead to conflicting priorities.
(2) Lack of change leadership who aren’t prepared and/or committed to lead the change
(3) An impenetrable culture that is neither ready nor prepared to change
(4) Lack of coordination across business, functions, regions due to poor organizational design
(5) No talent strategy or plans in place that results in insufficient talent to navigate and thrive in new environments of change
(6) Not clearly defining what organizational health and effectiveness looks like. Change will happen (shared services will be created, new ERP systems are implemented, organizations are redesigned) but how will you know that those changes were effective?
(7) Not fully accounting for the reactions to change (consider fatigue, stress, anxiety) that employees may have and being prepared to address those reactions.
Although it is unclear as to the true success rate of organizational change (reportedly low about 1/3), I’d argue that change isn’t sticking due to a short sighted effort that minimizes the organizational system and people impacts. A more comprehensive approach to change will help minimize those barriers cited above and support long term change.