At the Brink of Change – Creating the Desire to Change

At a recent conference I attended, there were two trends that made me ponder about change management.   First of all, for years now, we have been hovering around 30% success rate for change efforts.  This stat, even with improved efforts, more practice with change, refined methods, has been status quo. It might be one of the only aspects of corporate life that has not changed since the early 2000s, ironically enough.  The second trend is that the average tenure of a Chief Procurement Officer is 3 years and there is an expectation to drive transformational change within the first 18 months of their stead.

The impact of these two trends is noteworthy – significant change for the workforce, which was not adopted fully, and that will change again in the next year and a half.  Unfortunately, this results in a workforce that is on a brink of two reactions.  One group realizes that they really do not need to change, because it will just change again in the coming months, thus becoming more and more resistant to change.  The second group rides with the change, but likely will get frustrated or tired of the lack of sustained vision that they are adopting, resulting in disengagement. 
Given that change is going to occur, and possibly even occur at a faster rate with digital transformations happening in most organizations at this time, we need to think about leading our people differently through the change.  We have two choices related to how we lead change – mandating all change, thus not giving our employees a choice or focusing our efforts more on creating the desire to change (I am opting for this). 
Creating desire is often the hardest part of change, and the one that we most often overlook.  Without desire to change, you can train, communicate, explain the benefits, etc but realize no lasting change from that individual.  Think about yourself for a moment.  Let’s just say we know we should lose weight.  How do you create a long lasting, sustained change in your life to actually lose the weight?  Some of us might have short-term motivation (the January exercise routine), but it does not create a lifestyle change and we continue to struggle.  We know is it better for us, but we have limited desire to change.
To truly create this desire, I believe there are three critical elements that are missing from current, corporate change strategies. 
1.     Long Term Purpose – With change happening so rapidly, one thing that must stay constant in a company is a long-term purpose, which is deeply rooted into the culture of the company.  With this purpose, the change you are trying to drive should be tied closely to it, thus providing longer-term perspective to the individuals impacted.  This purpose cannot be created project by project, as then you get the flavor of the day reaction from your teams and change is not sustained.  However, all project communications, training, goals, should reference this greater purpose.  The purpose is the larger story around why it is important to change and sustain the change.
2.     Provide Opportunities to Help – Change initiatives can get so focused on WIIFM, which are those benefits to the individual related to the change.  Those benefits are a motivator; however, if there is a perception that those are short-lived or not impactful, they little to move the desire to change where it needs to be.   There is another great motivator to create desire that we often overlook which is the opportunity to help.  People flourish if their leaders understand their strengths and provide them the opportunity to share those strengths with others.  I reflect on studies related to sustained, life-altering change, like those struggling with addiction.  Those who beat addiction often site serving others as one of the key factors in their success.  They lose their selves through serving others.  While our change programs often do not need to be life changing, the challenge that we face in our corporations is creating those same opportunities within our organizations.   So, instead of only looking at a stakeholder analysis from a perspective of who might resist change, maybe we should be looking at people’s strengths, leveraging those strengths, and creating an environment of service on the project.
3.     Coaching– Last but not least is a new way of coaching people through change.  From my experience, “coaching” during change has been in one or two areas – expecting the people leaders to help their teams through change or developing a network of “super users” to guide people through change.  Most of the time, both of these tactics are used.  However, I believe they are flawed because those same people are often struggling with the change themselves and often do not have the skill set to truly coach people through change.  For large change initiatives, dedicated coaches are likely needed to support the critical stakeholders who need to change.  These coaches can be external or internal resources, but they must have the ability to mentor, build trust, understand the change cycle, and be proven in their ability to listen and advise.  These coaches also cannot be part of the core project team, as they need to be a trusted sounding board, impartial to the objectives, but still able to move people through the change curve.
As my dad always tells me, “if it was easy, it would be done already.”  These words echo in my mind as I think about the responsibility we have as leaders to not only think about the transformations we are leading, but also tackle the hardest part which is assisting individuals, our teams and organizations through the change.   I hope these ideas help with that challenge, and that in the coming years; we can experience amazing change results. 

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