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"The only thing that stands between a man

 and what he wants from life is often merely

the will to try it and the faith to believe that it is possible."
- Richard M. DeVos

More Inspirational quotes

When implementing change, managers often overlook the most important factor - people!

"He's a really great guy but I just hate the way he dresses/drinks his coffee/leaves the cap off the toothpaste etc. But I can change all that." Ever heard this before?

And does he (or she) change? Rarely. It's the same with organizations. Whether you're trying to improve your customer service, re-engineer your business systems, restructure a department or outsource a function, very few organisations achieve the results they want - especially if focus on changing attitudes and behaviours after the process, system or structural change is made.

In a 1998 Report on Change Management in both the public and private sector over the last year, KPMG revealed that only 22% of the change initiatives fully delivered the intended benefits on budget and on time.

And other surveys support this. They show us that outsourcing has failed to deliver in many cases and that downsizing has mostly been a disaster - the best people have gone taking their corporate knowledge with them. Morale (and often the health) of those who are left is in tatters and productivity has declined. Cashflow is precarious not least because of the high cost of retrenchment packages and the need to re-hire expertise at increased rates.

So what's the problem? A recent headline in the Jan 25 `99 BRW said it all:


"I.T. Overhaul founders on the Human Factor".

Ask anyone who has tried to change the way their organizations do business why it hasn't worked. There's almost no doubt they will say - the people factor. Even Michael Hammer, the father of the re-engineering movement, acknowledged that 70% of re- engineering activities have failed. He told The Wall Street Journal: "I wasn't smart enough about that. I was reflecting my engineering background and was insufficiently appreciative of the human dimension. "


"Put people first, profit will follow"

So what's to be done? Think of it this way: Would you ever acquire or merge with another business without first doing your financial due diligence? Would you ever plan to build a power station without doing your environmental due diligence? Of course not - so why do many organizations try to introduce change of any kind without doing human due diligence?

Many managers don't understand that increasingly human capacity to absorb and implement change is the major risk management factor whether you want to introduce a new strategic vision, improve customer satisfaction, restructure or deliver a new product or service.

So what can you do to decrease the people risk factor in your change initiatives? Put another way, how can you build change resilience and adaptability in your workplace?

Successful change implementers take the time to plan every facet of the change project especially the people strategy. Nothing is left to chance. The "she'll be right on the day, mate" attitude has no place unless you have money to burn.

Successful change implementers start with these threshold questions:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • Why now? What if we don't do this now?
  • What is our destination? Precisely.
  • How will we get there?
  • What's in it for our people? How will the gains outweigh the losses?
  • How will we bring our people along with us?
  • How will we consolidate the changes?

Until these questions are clearly and fully addressed, don't even think about implementing the change. I guarantee that Murphy will visit and he'll be the least of your troubles. When you've got the answers, there are two major strategies that need to run in parallel. One is to plan the change and its implementation. The other is to prepare your people for the changes that are about to happen.

In both strategies, communication is the number one issue. This seems like a statement of the blinding obvious yet communication is still reported as the major problem in implementing change. Internal communication is highly sensitive and crucial in building trust, maintaining loyalty and productivity. It involves many layers and many levels depending on the type and degree of change you want to make. But telling them once by memo is never enough.

Another major challenge, especially for managers, is to commit enough time and resources to the project. This means going beyond the basics: eg what skills do we need? How will we put them in place? What sort of training does this entail? What have we got now? How will we address the gap?

It includes allowing time and resources for the transition itself - that in-between stage when people are in the process are letting go of the old and embracing the new. Rarely does everyone come on board at the same time, so different plans have to be devised for early adopters, laggers or resistors.

Reluctance and resistance are direct and predictable responses to the feeling of loss of control, the main reason why people react negatively to change. Workshops focussed on understanding the impact of change can help with this. This is a significant component of the preparation strategy. We know that people seem to move along the change adaptability curve faster if they know what's happening to them.

The third major issue is to ensure organization-wide congruency or consistency. This is especially important when you are trying to change the culture or behaviour, the way we do things around here.

For example, if you are moving to a team based way of working, then review all your recruitment, remuneration and performance management systems to make sure they too, are team based. Don't reward or recognise someone who makes their budget or goals but climbs over anyone and everyone to get there. Train, counsel, warn - but take all the steps you need to. Your people want to see that you're serious and mean business.

The management of organizational change is never to be underestimated. It can be time consuming and hair-pulling at times. But as Charles Darwin said:


"It's not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change".

Managers who invest time and resources in planning and thinking through the human factor in their change initiatives recognize that their people are the only key difference that they have. They and their organizations will not only survive, they'll thrive against the competition.

Anne Riches

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