Why Change Doesn't Happen, and What to Do About It
We're searching for top company cultures to be featured on our annual list. Think your company has what it takes? Apply Now »
We’re at that time of year where it seems like a new quarter has either just started or another one is just around the corner. This rhythm sets up a predictable pattern ripe for making change happen in your organization. Having seen my own fair share of quarterly cycles, I can attest that this is indeed the ideal time to institute companywide changes, particularly in terms of policies and procedures.
But, have you ever wondered why change doesn’t happen?
I’ve been there -- as the leader of a company, where a decision was made to update processes or refine a product offering, but for some reason, the change was unsuccessful and I couldn't get it to stick.
Change, despite how low-impact it may seem, shouldn’t be taken lightly. There’s a reason why people resist change, and that's because it’s often done so poorly. Even in those situations when it’s clear that change is needed and the results will be positive, various and common, pitfalls exist.
Here are the five reasons why the change you may be trying to implement doesn't happen and how to implement it better next time, just in time for a new quarter.
1. No decision has been made.
Change starts with an idea; ideas, once vetted, turn into projects. Those projects are worked on for several weeks and then the business case is supported by data, forecasts and other projections. Time passes and nothing changes. What was once a great idea with momentum seems to die on the vine. The reason is that no real decision was made -- you missed a major step in there.
What to do about a lack of decision-making: To correct this, and avoid one of the biggest pitfalls when arranging a change in your company or department, find out who the decision-maker is. Or, at least find out how a decision will be made, should input be needed from more than one person -- a committee, for instance. Either way, you’ll need to determine who is making the decision.
Doing this means that you’ll know exactly whom to check-in with for an update on the project’s progress, which will dictate when to move everything to the next step, outlined below.
If it’s you who is the ultimate decision-maker, recognize the power in your hands and be respectful of the impact you can have on others’ livelihood or customer experience. Evaluate your options and move forward by weighing the tangible and intangible outcomes. The more you make big decisions, the better you’ll get at it. Just make sure that you’re making one of those decisions -- that’s the first step when implementing change.
2. The change lacks buy-in from key influencers.
Buy-in is the notion that others must not only agree, but be supportive of positive change. In most organizations, it will be obvious whom you’ll need buy-in from. While buy-in at the C-level is sometimes referred to as "executive sponsorship," there may be others who have similar influence when it comes to executing the change.
For instance, ensuring that those in human resources are on board is always helpful because it is those internal experts who are responsible for corporate training. The key here is making sure that the right people are informed and are fully supportive.
What to do about a lack of buy-in: For executive sponsorship, establish the business case. From purchasing new software to changing a long-standing service provider, these decisions are often more easily made when supported by data. And, with more businesses becoming data-driven, you can eliminate guesswork and subjectivity by using tools such as a ROI analysis, a cost-benefit analysis or a payback period.
For process changes, develop a business case for the amount of time saved on a per-person basis and then multiply that across the entire company, to paint a picture of how the new way will result in a more productive workforce.
3. The change hasn’t been communicated.
No matter how great an idea is or how strong its business case may be, change that is decided on in the boardroom, but never communicated, may as well never have happened in the first place.
If you’re like me, you’ve sensed a palpable anxiety from your team members when they know change is just around the corner, but it hasn’t yet been formally communicated.
With change decided upon, it’s likely to come up informally in discussions. Unfortunately, such water cooler conversations result in soundbite explanations, which, in turn, have the potential to be misinterpreted and passed along as full-blown rumors -- and that is exactly how misinformation spreads across an entire organization.
The longer the time period between a finalized decision being communicated via a company-wide or even public announcement, the higher the risk of a leak, which could have lasting damage and undermine months of work.
Recently, I experienced this myself when a product-name change was in the works, and in several discussions and training sessions, I found myself struggling to remember to refer to the old name, not the new one, because we hadn’t yet announced the upcoming change. We really do such things to ourselves. The sooner you can communicate change, the less of a balancing act you’ll need.
What to do about a lack of communication: Determine who is saying what, when and how. As CEO, I take great pride in rolling out changes. I thoughtfully design the presentation, crafting a story to provide reasoning as to why change is needed and then explain the solution, process or procedure to be implemented.
Giving a preview of the presentation to a trusted colleague to gather feedback is also necessary. Rehearsals help you refine the message and ensure that technical aspects of the presentation run smoothly.
Despite your best efforts to communicate change, brace yourself for the potential, “I never heard about that before,” or, “This is the first time I've heard of it.” Statements like these verify that you’ll need to do a better job communicating, even if you think you’ve already done so.
George Bernard Shaw famously said that, "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." Remember that you’ll need to communicate the same message, several times, in different formats (verbally, via email, and an internal messaging channel too, such as Chatter, Slack or HipChat -- or even via the corporate Intranet).
4. The change wasn’t followed by training
To reiterate -- because it’s that important -- the announcement is best done in a group setting, supported by a presentation, and promptly posted on your internal channels making it available for those not in attendance. Either as part of the announcement or immediately afterward, you must follow-up with training.
If you are changing a key business process or a familiar routine, training is also a particularly important part of the change. As they say, humans are creatures of habit, which partly explains why people, in general, dislike change. In my experience, it’s more appropriately stated as a dislike for the unknown. You can alleviate much of the nervousness that understandably comes with change by offering training and support to those affected by the update.
What to do about a lack of training: Loop in those responsible for training and give them a heads up. Because most people will seek out the expertise of the trainer, equip them prior to launch and verify that they’re prepared to give training on your new methodology.
After that, your next move is merely to pick a date. Select one as close to the formal announcement as possible for best results.
5. The change lacked a 'go live' date.
Sometimes, a gap may exist between the announcement, the training and what I’ll refer to as the “go live date” -- the date the change goes into effect.
Ideally, there is no gap, but should this occur, be clear as to when the effective date is.
What to do about a failure to set a date: Commit to that go-live date. This could be the date that a new feature is rolling out on your website, the date you launch a new version of your product or the date that a new performance-review system takes effect.
For meaningful internal changes, providing the team with 30 days notice is not only a courtesy, but also, should there be an oversight, a sufficient time period to make small tweaks before the effective date arrives.
Making positive change take root
Change should not be feared. In fact, change is a sign of progress and should therefore be embraced. By making a firm decision on the best path forward, communicating the change to your company or external stakeholders and then following up with training, should it be required, you’ll be applying the best practices of change management.