Research by John Kotter in 1996 found that only one in three change programs succeed. Since then, many other researchers have confirmed this statistic. The reasons for failed change are many. People are naturally inclined to defend the status quo, employees don’t understand what is in it for them, change is managed haphazardly, and perhaps most importantly, leaders fail to embrace and role model the change. If you are a leader seeking to drive change, what can you do to make sure you are aiding, rather than impairing the change process?
Look within. It is our natural tendency to take credit for things that go well to our own talents and efforts, and to avoid taking responsibility for mistakes or problems. In psychology this phenomenon is called the self-serving bias. While the self-serving bias is helpful in that it protects our self-esteem, it can also lead to lack of self-awareness. In other words, we tend to think we are better at most things than everyone else.
As a leader this can be problematic in your ability to be a role model for change. If you think you are doing well, but it is everyone else that needs to change, you are less likely to model new behaviors (after all, why do you need to change if you are already providing the best customer service/quality/fill-in-the-blank?!). Start any change process by asking yourself and others how you can be better at what you are trying to do differently. Role modeling this process will make it ok for others to admit where they need to improve.
Make it relevant. Most leaders understand the importance of communicating the why behind a change effort. Often times those messages are crafted in terms of fixing a problem that will benefit the organization (we will beat the competition, we will drive revenue, we will enter a new market). While employees do care about the success of the organization, it’s not the only thing that motivates them. Consider the benefits of the change from multiple angles so that everyone can find something meaningful to connect with. For example, consider adding the following to your messages around change:
How will the change impact and benefit me? (Will it help me be more efficient, learn new skills, have opportunities to advance, result in less re-work?)
How will it impact our clients, customers or patients?
How will this help us be more socially responsible or give back to the community?
Make it ok to fail. When we talk about new ideas and implementing change, we often focus on what can go wrong. But for organizations to evolve and improve, it has to be ok to take smart risks. Organizations that are successful at innovation celebrate failure as well as success because it means that new ideas are being tried. As a leader, if you try something new and it doesn’t work, acknowledge the attempt, share what you learned, and discuss what you will do differently next time.
Celebrate early and often. The first steps of change are often the hardest, so it is important to recognize early wins. Take baby steps and celebrate milestones as they happen. Use change as an opportunity to recognize employees for their contribution in a meaningful way. Ask employees to set small goals and ask them how they would like to be rewarded when they meet them. Of course, rewards don’t always have to be monetary. Consider ideas like getting to leave an hour early on a Friday, getting to pick your shift, or celebrating with a group pot luck.
Written by Dr. Leanne Buehler, VP Consulting Services, Newmeasures