Summer 2017 Issue

After more than a decade of client work in large-scale transformation and change, I’ve learned there are some critical factors that correlate directly with transformation success and an increased realization of benefits. According to research conducted by Prosci, a rigorous transformation approach is six times more likely to give you the intended business outcomes you’re looking for, than transformation efforts in which an action plan is absent.

Without a holistic approach to the transformation effort, your transformation can suffer from massive resistance, little change in day-to-day employee behaviours, haphazard efforts, false starts, and waning focus. You can beat the transformation odds by leading by example, communicating effectively, and establishing reinforcement mechanisms to sustain the benefits in the long-term. What follows are some key best practices when it comes to enabling success for transformation initiatives. 

Engage people throughout the organization by communicating a transformation story.  
Without a clear and compelling case for transformational change, people’s hearts won’t be in it, your efforts will lose momentum and you’ll be faced with stagnation or even a retreat to old ways of working. Early engagement efforts facilitate momentum, and when communications are effective and collaborative, they ignite the transformation. Research by global consulting firms such as McKinsey prove that when frontline employees feel a sense of ownership in transformation and take the initiative to drive change, success rates catapult to nearly 80%. Relate your transformation back to your company’s vision, communicate the progress, achievements and implications, engage people in learning and capacity-building, and ensure that engagement plans are scalable to gain maximum impact.  

Make a commitment to continuous improvement through reinforcement mechanisms.  
A strong transformation leader continually assesses the organization’s SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) and focuses on changing mindsets and day-to-day behaviours to sustain transformation. These leaders integrate reinforcement mechanisms in recruitment, reward, and performance management processes while continuing to have line managers lead initiatives in their work groups or departments. Support systems and transitions plans are typically evident in successful transformations, as well as a company-wide commitment to identify opportunities for improvement based on best practice. Middle management receive training in change leadership, and this contributes to long-term organizational effectiveness. The transformation becomes an intrinsic part of company culture and values; one where innovation is favoured over regression.  

Transformation demands strong leadership. 
This may be the most critical factor that ultimately determines the success of a change initiative. Successful transformations are fuelled by active and visible executive sponsors. In transformations where company leaders are actively involved, role-modelling the change expected and proactively managing the change portfolio, transformation efforts can go a lot further. Leaders with sufficient influence and commitment are critical for transformation success, and those that define clear targets, systems, and structure for the transformation effort often meet their goals. These leaders work collaboratively with a Change Management Office (CMO) or Transformation Office (TO) to centrally coordinate the transformation, ensuring that sufficient personnel are allocated to the effort, roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, and high-energy, enthusiastic personnel are tasked to lead the effort. 

Leaders are people who don’t just learn to live with or manage change: they actually create change and help others successfully navigate it. Imagine a world without change for a moment. Can you imagine a world without Apple, Amazon, or Tesla? What if leaders like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk were wedded to the status quo?  Where would we be today without their seemingly endless innovation?  These success stories have a common thread: change is the fuel that powers and drives business innovation. Following are some character traits in leaders who majestically weather the storm of change. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a primer for those who want to come out as the victor over change. 

They get hungry and hunt for facts. 
"If you don’t truly get under the change and analyze it before you react to it, you may miss something — like the critical time to quit your job and move on.” - James Rosebush.

Successful leaders are curious about the possibilities that change promises and are often skeptical of conventional wisdom. They challenge previous belief systems by enhancing situational awareness. These leaders realize that the current state is not that comfortable, and that remaining in it is unappealing. They don’t fear conflict, but instead share their concerns and assess plausible alternatives. They step outside their comfort zone to anticipate threats to the current success, but also address how they’re going to tackle them. They let go of 'the way things are done around here' to pursue a greater goal and disrupt the status quo. They take the time to understand what the specific changes include, who the changes will impact, and how the changes will impact key stakeholders. Try overturning some rules of the road and muting consensus like these leaders do, and you may elicit some of the facts of the change as a result. 

They focus on the things they have control over.
"Don’t sit on the sidelines and allow worry to be the landing zone; instead, make it your jumping-off point.” - Michael F. Kay, 

According to a number of studies related to social needs in the workplace, the perception of greater autonomy increases the feeling of certainty and reduces stress. Successful leaders know that even during times of large-scale change, there is always at least one thing that will remain the same. They uncover the meaning in the work they do and own it. So, instead of thinking of a project as a 'company project' think of it as 'my project'. It could be an opportunity to do something that benefits the whole company. Accept uncertainty and learn to thrive in it.  

They stay positive
Life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” - Jim Rohn  

It’s all a matter of perspective. Successful leaders visualize positive outcomes when it comes to change, because they know that no matter the outcome, they’re in control of their response. Research shows that positive thinking does indeed have an impact on your skills. They view change as an opportunity, and not a threat. Just ask Kodak, RIM and Blockbuster what they didn’t see through a positive lens of opportunity.

They prepare.
Effective preparation for change begins with the mind. Successful leaders actively look for new and necessary information - they choose to learn. They know what they don’t know. They know it’s dangerous to claim that you know everything. They have the self-awareness around their capabilities, and what they need to do to build skills and knowledge in how to perform effectively in the future state. They become the credible messenger for their teams, interpreting what’s going on for people and explaining what it means for them in specific, concrete terms. 

For those that are familiar with Prosci’s ADKAR model for change, this is the K, or Knowledge, piece. Successful leaders must ensure that there is capacity for learning, adequate resources available for training, and most importantly, participate themselves. They take the time to engage in formal training programs so that they can adequately support their teams and colleagues in the new ways of working. They model the behaviours needed for change to sustain it.   

There are numerous effective strategies that successful leaders employ when faced with change, and what I have described above are only a few. Successful leaders tackle change head-on and remove the fear-factor. They know what must be done, cultivate a positive culture and always find a way. They may fall, but pick themselves up repeatedly, developing resiliency. Find a leader who’s succeeded during change and model yourself after them: you have the formula, just believe in your ability to use it.  

If you’re planning to start a transformation in your company, bear in mind that success requires dedicated effort and action, consistent engagement, and high-impact sustainment strategies. Pay attention to employee mindsets, keep a pulse on change readiness, and provide support systems to your people. When you commit to your people, you prepare them to champion and embrace change.

What are you doing as a leader to help people embrace change?

Mumtaz Chaudhary is an organizational change management professional with over a decade of experience in delivering transformational change programs and building engaged cultures in large-scale and complex environments. With a certification in the Prosci® methodology for change, and armed with experience in the post-secondary education, energy, heavy machinery, mining and financial sectors, Mumtaz is a hands-on, high-quality, and driven management consultant with proven agility. Mumtaz is an active member of the Vancouver business community as a volunteer mentor for the SFU Mentors in Business (MIB) program and serves on the Board of Directors for the BC Organizational Development Network (BCODN). She is also a CMC™ candidate, working towards her designation in management consulting. 

Mumtaz is Executive Director and co-founder of a boutique change management consultancy called Pragilis Solutions. Pragilis is a resource for business leaders who want to ensure positive, successful and sustainable change, in turn, providing their organizations with a strategic and competitive advantage. Mumtaz, and her co-founder, Shaheen Chaudhary, are leading a talented team of change management professionals at Pragilis who help clients in a variety of sectors in Western Canada.