The Key Factors of Sustainable Change
Naturally, we’d need to take a long term and wide-ranging view of the outcomes and purpose of a change management program, so knowing the key factors of sustainable change is crucial. Let’s keep in mind the most common very high-level reasons change management is undertaken:
- strategic alignment (business objectives and how we get there so we can ‘boss’ our category)
- benefits realisation (change drivers, problem statement – all the things we do not do well, that we fail at and that we need to start doing better and all the things we want to be able to do, now and in the future)
- sustainable change (how we achieve our business objectives and keep getting the benefits but also be structured to make new changes at scale and pace and continue to improve)
In other words, do better, compete stronger, sell more, have a favourable and high profile and lead in our sector – all the things businesses want and need to do. But far too many don’t get there. Far too many fall over. It all gets too complicated, focuses on the wrong things and that’s a shame. The following article is lengthy, although I may break it into 7 separate articles for each area at some stage, but this is not a topic I plan to take a bite-sized approach to. It should all be known, so it all needs to be said.
The purpose of business transformation is to enable optimised business performance and human capability so the transformation process must deliver that. Clarity on the factors that increase this likelihood is highly beneficial. Implementation’ describes the phase of enacting the changes scoped, planned and created within a business and implies an embedding but embedding is not complete without adoption. Adoption must be persisted which means that the change is actually implemented rather than just installed. For this to be true, behaviours, attitudes, processes etc must be modified enduringly, through all the interdependent elements of the change management process, to get the necessary buy-in from savvy sponsors, engaged employees and functions who will protect the brand standards.
Why you need a framework that ensures the change delivered will be sustainable
If as Change professionals, we get to the end of our implementation and
- we have left people behind, or they leave us in spirit or otherwise
- the technology we have invested in and implemented is not utilised to its fullest extent by all of its target user groups
- our overall culture is not improved and the key prongs of change are not fully adopted
- we do not have day one excellence in people transition, system and tool adoption, and clarity on what they need to do, how to do it and how to remediate,
the change and benefits delivered are NOT sustainable, and we have manifestly FAILED.
The backdrop to this is that the absolute failure rates for change programs are staggering, over 70% fail. However, as the requirement for, and rate of change continue to go up, change management is a far more frequent exercise than not for businesses who want to stay on top. So it’s definitely worth understanding the factors that make success more likely, especially for smaller companies and professional services firms, whose businesses may possess some built-in advantages, if the pitfalls are clear.
The right framework integrates the key factors of sustainable change, helps with embedding systems and processes as well as the behaviours and actions of your people. Make no mistake – this is the brass ring. Change equals new operations, systems and processes but sometimes also entail massive upheaval for people like restructuring, merging and new organisational design that means significant and stressful people changes. I do not want to gloss over this and you shouldn’t want me to.
Ok, so we need to accept that change is pretty much unavoidable but we along with that also must accept that with full-scale transformations, the people side of this process must be prioritised, especially if your business is smart enough to consider your employees as the assets they are and can be. This is because some of the all-time biggest reasons for the failure of change projects are to do with people -a) resistance to change b) badly managed people change c) no specific, focused business transition management d) toxicity arising in relationships or environments.
People! It is absolutely vital to prioritise people and get them on board. You need them engaged, invested both rationally and on an emotionally. Change that can be sustained is very rarely imposed on people with agency. You have heard this before, but how do you do it and why does it matter?
It’s a series of actions across the dimensions outlined below that together accomplish this important goal, not a single step. You can’t do it without vision, but you do not get that without a leader and he cannot sell it if he is not accountable or communicating with people or without an end to end business transition plan . People are central to the process but without the right motivations and mobilisation and a clear and common view of the vision and the role they play, it’s a non-starter.
Successfully managing change is predicated on putting together strategy, structure, processes and infrastructure to move people, with their consent and participation with vision, clear messaging and communication to a desirable outcome – the gain of something or the avoidance of something or both. If anything in the chain of any of these critical dimensions fails, everything breaks down. A really good example of when a communication breakdown led to other systemic disintegrations in, that does not demand a business hat or experience to understand, is what happened when the British Government varied their message and slogan as well as arguably behaviours that they expected during the COVID19 crisis and how this changed the rates of adherence to societally accepted norms of lockdown etiquette. An almost wholesale breaking of lockdown and widespread risky behaviours that endangered everybody and created disruption. The primary goal was to do with people and modifying their behaviour so that new processes and new IT could be adopted and work. Likewise, if your organisation manages to deliver the non-people elements of change but leaves people behind, it is indisputable that the change exercise has failed.