The Truth About Executing Change

Blog Post Enabling Successful Change

The world is undergoing unprecedented industry disruption forcing business models to rapidly evolve. An example is the evolution of the Financial Services Sector with the introduction of FINTECH. These turbulent times require companies to implement changes to meet the changing competitive landscape. But, to complicate matters further is the requirement to have a successful implementation in a world where it is estimated 70% of all change initiatives fail. Why though? The answer might just lie in these five implementation truths.

Implementation Truth 1: Employees are not Born with Implementation Skills
From the time children begin school, they are taught to think analytically and to clearly define and solve problems. These are critical thinking skills and academic institutions are adept in teaching them. However, teaching students how to change or how to implement change is not in the curriculum.

This is not any different in business. Employees are taught to complete forms, calculate ratios or analyze trends—in other words, to think linear and analytically. Employees know when an organization is resisting change, but how to deal with that resistance is not taught. But, since these skills are not taught in schools and companies often do not imbue their people with them, the unintended becomes evident.

Implementation Truth 2: More People and Time are Required
While analysis of an issue can be achieved with a small group of employees, an implementation on other hand requires the entire organization affected by the change to participate. It has been stated that 70% of all implementation efforts fail. A major reason for this is the gross under estimation of the level of effort required to guide the affected organization through the implementation. Too often, “implementation by memo”, is the norm for attempting to implement systemic change. Meaning management merely sends a memo or an email announcing the changes and subordinates are expected to act. This approach is a recipe for disaster.

A close corollary to underestimating the level of effort is underestimating the time required to make changes all the way down to the operating instructions. The time required to effectively implement changes can range from months for simple changes to years for corporate wide initiatives.

Examples include;

    Procedures: 1-3 months
    Processes: 3-12 months
    Business Unit: 1-3 years
    Enterprise: 3 – 6 years

Implementation Truth 3: Resistance is futile
If your organization has undergone a major change you probably noticed three types of employees. A small group will be the cheerleaders and wonder why the changes have not occurred sooner, the next group will actively resist or sabotage change at every step, and then there is the mass majority who is waiting to see which group wins.

Time and again organizations spend far too much effort trying to placate the resistors. Any change will have resistors and effort to bring them along should occur but there will be somewhere no amount of effort will change their behaviors. Implementation efforts should not cater to the resistors but focus on winning the support of the mass middle. Time and energy should be poured into this group. If too much effort is spent on the resistors it will end up as a sunk cost and the change initiative will flounder.

A successful implementation is not looking to change beliefs, just the skills and/or behaviors needed. To effectively bring this change requires the elements of accountability and decision rights linked to the performance management system to ensure sustainability.

Implementation Truth 4: Can’t Manage if you Don’t Measure
In order for behaviors to change, an organization needs measurements to see if the desired outcomes are achieved. Measurements allow managers to effectively monitor the work and make corrections based on facts and not guesses. As the saying goes, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Furthermore, implementation means getting dirty with tedious jobs like writing work instructions, combining the work instructions into procedures and finally combining the procedures in work processes. Processes need to possess performance measures to proactively manage results and not reactively blame.

Implementation Truth 5: Pilot Everything
Since organizations under estimate the time and effort required to implement changes they often rush into a full scale roll out. What could go wrong?

This often leads to expensive rework, dissatisfied customers, and disgruntled employees. Just like in software development, problems are easier and cheaper to correct in a beta test. A pilot implementation is the same. Select a small unit in the organization to begin a pilot and have the employees actively be involved in the pilot to obtain their feedback. Employees in a pilot know where the problems are. Listen to them.