Most organisations are not good at implementing projects that require people to work differently (eg new appraisal processes, mentoring programmes, key account programmes, new IT add-on systems etc). Programmes get initiated, but often fizzle out before any great added value is achieved.
My own view is that firms take on too many projects and that few of them are really committed to or done properly. Staff become cynical and resistance to change builds up.
So what can we learn about successful change projects from the experts? Eminent professors at Harvard and elsewhere have studied change programmes in successful companies and have come up with their recommended processes. Here is a distillation of the themes that are broadly agreed.
The Beer, Eisenstat and Spector Model
Beer, Eisenstat and Spector reviewed change programmes in six large firms over a four year period and proposed a six step change model as follows:
- Mobilise energy and commitment through joint identification of business problems and their solutions – greater mobilisation occurs by helping staff develop a shared diagnosis of what is wrong.
- Develop a shared vision of how to organise and manage for competitiveness – this can be successfully achieved by setting up task forces, consulting widely and arranging retreats to agree roles and responsibilities
- Foster consensus, competence and cohesion – strong leadership is required and support is needed for the project team to deal with those who are less committed to the change
- Spread revitalisation without pushing from the top – change works better if each unit finds its own way rather than being forced to adopt a certain approach
- Institutionalise success through formal policies, systems and structures – if change is delicate and like an egg, then what is needed is an egg cup, in the form of new processes, systems, measurement and reward procedures etc
- Monitor and adjust strategies in response to problems in the change process – change is invariably a ‘suck it and see’ process, involving trial and error and gradually zeroing in on improved performance.
The Kotter Model
Kotter has an eight step process for successfully managing change, as follows:
Set the Stage
1. Create a Sense of Urgency – help others see the need for change and the importance of acting immediately
2. Pull Together the Guiding Team – make sure there is a powerful group guiding the change – with leadership skills, credibility, communications ability, analytical skills and a sense of urgency
Decide What to Do
3. Develop the Change Vision and Strategy – clarify how the future will be different from the past and how you can make that future a reality
Make it Happen
4. Communicate for Understanding and Buy-In – make sure as many others as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy
5. Empower Others to Act – remove as many barriers as possible so that those who want to make the vision a reality can do so
6. Produce Short-Terms Wins – Create some visible unambiguous successes as soon as possible
7. Don’t Let Up – press harder and faster after the first successes. Be relentless with initiating change after change until the vision is a reality
Make it Stick
8. Create a New Culture – hold on to ways of behaving and make sure they succeed until they become strong enough to replace old traditions
What do these models have in common? They show successful change programmes require real commitment from those affected by the change and that to gain that commitment, it’s best to:
- create an attractive vision
- get buy-in through consulting widely to see how this vision can be realised
- build a guiding coalition of supporters of the vision
- be merciless in ensuring actions get taken
- stabilise the change (ie make it stick) before moving on to the next project