There is a saying – if you aren’t moving forward, you are falling behind. The gist of it is that the world continues to evolve and if you aren’t keeping pace, you will fall behind. But when you are running a business, the need to evolve doesn’t always feel necessary. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Years go by and it feels like all of a sudden there is a big gulf to become competitive again. So, an initiative is undertaken to get back on track. The ability to make that initiative sustainable depends upon how well the change management aspects are handled. The following seven methods are the foundation for making sustainable change:
Invest the time, money and talent necessary to be successful
You’ve seen this one before. The leadership team comes up with a list of the top 100 high priority items for the company to address. The reality is there can only be three to five real priorities. Beyond that, you get chaos, confusion and working at cross purposes. It is critical to focus on the top priorities and set the rest aside for another time.
Before each initiative is launched, the leadership team should collectively agree that that initiative is a top priority and will be actively supported. That means money, time and talent will be prioritized to the effort. It is not possible to make progress when an initiative is not resourced properly. If for any reason the money, time and talent are not available, the initiative should not proceed until a time such that the resources can be devoted.
Identify the end state, not the activities to get there
Start with the end in mind. Why are you embarking on a change in your business? There should be discrete objectives that shape the initiative and result in making something better in your business. Maybe it is to develop a new product, or increase productivity by 15%. The objectives should be so clear that everyone understands the objective and can tell whether or not it has been achieved.
Once the objectives are clear, it will inform what you need to do and how you need to do it. Each activity will support the path toward achieving the objective. And by having a clear picture of the end state, the people participating can share their perspectives in a productive way. Conversely, if you start with a series of activities without a clear goal, it is likely that you will veer off course.
WIIFM – What’s In It For Me?
Many times, the change arises out of a desire to reduce cost or increase revenue (new products, new markets, etc.). Those are important goals. But why does that matter to the people who are impacted?
Change can only be effective when the people who are the subject of the change understand what the change is and how it impacts them. And most importantly, why things will be better for them after the change. If the change makes life harder for the people most impacted by it, chances are it will not be successful.
Companies have formal and informal hierarchies of influence. The formal channels are what you would see on an org chart. Depending upon the culture and the strength and effectiveness of the leaders, changes in the business have varying degrees of success. No matter how small or larger a company, there are key influencers. The formal title and position of these people are irrelevant. They are looked to for their perspectives. And depending on what they say, it becomes easier or harder to move the organization in the direction you desire.
It is critical to get the influencers engaged and behind any efforts that are going on in the company. Engage them in dialogue. Their perspectives should help shape the initiatives. Once they are bought in and engaged, their influence will help move the initiative forward.
Be transparent and acknowledge it will get harder before it gets easier
Every time you launch an initiative, it is important that you openly discuss what it is, the expected outcome, how it will make the lives of those impacted better, and how they can participate. This should be done before work gets underway. It can’t be a one and done announcement. Conversations need to continue through the life of the initiative.
As with any change, there will be things that people don’t like. Acknowledge it. It will get harder before it gets easier. It always takes a bit more effort to learn a different way to do things. And even with the best intentions, there will be a few things that don’t go as planned. So, build in a mechanism that allows for those issues to be addressed quickly. When you get to the end of the initiative, celebrate success and acknowledge the contributions people have made to make the initiative a success.
Draw a line and don’t slip back
Once you complete an initiative, the activities become part of the ongoing operations of the business. This is a time when initiatives can fail. The most successful continue supporting the effort until it is truly ingrained into daily activities. The changes have become habits. It is human nature to slip back to old habits before new ones have replaced the old ones. To combat this, a regular check in should take place, focusing on specific metrics that tell you if things are operating the way they should be.
If things start to slip, nip it in the bud. Re-focus and understand what is causing things to slip back. If it is a loss of focus, re-focus on the new ways of business. If there is something else causing the slip, find the cause and fix it quickly. The long-term success of the changes you have made are dependent upon staying focused and not letting things slip back to the old ways.
Instill a culture of learning
Once the initiative is done, things shouldn’t go back to business as usual. Part of the change should involve developing a culture of learning and implementing best practices. Change can either be incremental or dramatic. It is most painful when it is a big change all at once. Continuing to evolve the business should become part of the fabric of the way things are done.
A culture of learning challenges people to actively think about what is going well, what is not and why. The culture celebrates learning from mistakes, asking for help when it is needed, and learning new skills that advance people and the company. It does not focus on assigning blame, it focuses on learning and improving.
Making change sustainable takes focus and effort. Once you get the basics down in your business, you will find that each successive effort becomes easier. Eventually, the way you drive change in your organization is understood and it just happens. That’s when change becomes sustainable.
Copyright © 2016 Heidi Pozzo – All Rights Reserved
Permission is granted to reprint this article in your newsletter or magazine with the following byline and click-able link:
Heidi Pozzo is a strategy and performance improvement consultant. She has helped transform businesses by connecting the people in the company to the strategy, resulting in significant increases in earnings and business value. To find out more about her services,
or call 360-355-7862.