Successful organizations embrace change. They understand they can’t thrive without it. Consider Amazon’s rapid transformation. It started as an online book store in 1994, morphed into the biggest retailer in the world and in 2017 shared its plan to produce as many as 16 feature films a year. The company would not be the dominant force it is today if it hadn’t operated with a growth mindset and quickly responded to market trends and opportunities.
Even though change can be invigorating, it can also be difficult. Up to 50% of organizational changes fail or deliver poor results. When faced with a significant challenge — or opportunity — organizations have the opportunity to build momentum and energy to support change and commit to transformation. How are companies making organizational change stick?
Start with why
For employees to embrace change, they need to understand the reason for it. Kotter’s Model emphasizes the importance of creating agreement among leaders about why the change is right for the business and its communities. The model calls this The Big Opportunity — the reason why the change needs to happen.
Consistent, clear and transparent communication connected to The Big Opportunity should underpin all change initiatives. Communication should flow throughout the organization to reinforce the reason for the change, build momentum and create urgency. When employees understand The Big Opportunity it prevents rumors and speculation that can derail change initiatives.
When organizations effectively communicate why the change is needed, employees are more likely to engage in the change, see the role they play in it and actively work toward making it happen.
Commit to active and visible leadership
Leaders play a vital role in change management, yet leaders alone can’t make change happen. They can, however, build momentum and influence others in the organization. Leaders can do this by playing an active role in the change and being visible, transparent and consistent in their communication. They also must understand their roles in change management — sponsor, champion, change agent, stakeholder and change integrator — and implement accordingly.
Employees look to leaders for cues on how to respond to change. When leaders effectively model their belief in the change and demonstrate the urgency behind it, they will mobilize employees. Leaders must drive organizational change and stay involved in the initiative from beginning to end.
Communicate proactively and consistently
Communication is the key to clarifying The Big Opportunity, activating leadership and sustaining momentum throughout the change. Change without clarity breeds uncertainty. When employees are uncertain, they’re less likely to embrace change.
Unfortunately, many organizations don’t build communication into their change plans. Part of the reason for this oversight is that change management models don’t include change management communication as a critical component. Leaders are either left to figure it out for themselves or fail to implement the communication strategy necessary to support successful change.
Organizations need to enable proactive communication before, during and after change initiatives. Leaders should consider how employees will perceive the change and how they can best communicate The Big Opportunity in a way that resonates with employees. When they communicate proactively and consistently with employees, leaders are more likely to drive support for change.
Leaders should also leverage communication channels to share change progress and celebrate wins along the way. This will increase momentum and keep employees excited and engaged. Leaders need to understand how people think and work, and then proactively and consistently communicate to dissipate uncertainty and drive change.
Enlist a coalition and employee army to drive change
Leaders can’t drive successful change without motivating employees to act. Change dictated from the top-down is not how change happens in a modern workplace culture built on collaboration and mutual respect.
Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change model recommends building a guiding coalition to help drive, coordinate and communicate change activities using a “more agile, network-like“ structure than a traditional leadership hierarchy. This coalition is a quicker and more effective way to produce change throughout an organization.
This guiding coalition is also more effective at enlisting a volunteer employee army — a large group of people rallied around The Big Opportunity. When this large group buys into the change, it helps the organization move in the direction needed for large-scale, lasting change.
Make the change stick
Change is energizing and vital for keeping organizations relevant in continually shifting markets. Leaders should evaluate how ready their organizations are to manage change. Organizations that communicate the reason for change clearly, activate leadership and maintain proactive communication are more likely to see their change initiatives succeed.
About Lisa Hannum, President & CEO
Lisa Hannum is founder and CEO of Beehive Strategic Communication, a Certified B Corporation. She is a purpose-driven leader who believes in the power of communication to build better businesses for a better world. Lisa has more than 30 years of experience in brand positioning, change management, culture transformation, crisis and issues management, marketing and public relations. Her clients have included Verizon, 3M, Cargill, University of Minnesota Health and Beaumont Health. Lisa frequently speaks and writes on the business value of communication and workplace culture.