As I’ve written about before, change is very challenging to deal with – both personally and professionally.
In Europe and North America, almost 50% of marriages end in divorce. That’s with TWO people!
Making change happen in your own company, even if it’s for the soundest of business reasons, has an even gloomier outlook, according to an article published on CNBC:
Leading a major change effort in any organization, let alone a large and complex one, presents a first order challenge, often among the most difficult of any executive career. In fact, the numbers show that up to 75% of change efforts fail.
When you add in the complexities of company culture, language, and country / continental differences, the news is even more bleak:
But the risk of failure gets even worse (and more expensive) when it comes to mergers and acquisitions. More recently, a 2007 study by Hay Group and the Sorbonne found that more than 90 percent of mergers in Europe fail to reach financial goals.
Now let’s be clear, no one of good conscience approaches any change or combination with anything but the best of intentions, and usually, there are high expectations for financial efficiencies, as well as marketing and operational synergies.
But many of them, despite the good intentions, seem to unravel.
What follows are five misconceptions about change and at least one antidote to each.
Misconception #1: Change happens quickly once announced.
Senior managers and change leaders all expect that once the official announcement has taken place, people will rally around the obvious benefits of the changes and begin to adapt to the new structures, reporting relationships and business realignments.
But personal relationships, familiarity, and comfort with current coworkers and processes, and fear of the unknown create their own sets of visceral inertia… and no two employees can predictably be expected to react in a similar fashion. That is simply a reflection of the human condition.
Leaders need to have a long-range plan that mirrors the expected improvements that were the basis for the change in the first place. Manage the change like you would any process improvement and have prearranged targets for checking in on progress along the way.
Start with the beginning in mind to determine how you will measure the effectiveness of not only progress along the way but how the ultimate results match up with the initial intentions.
Misconception #2: It usually begins with a definitive event.
In my most recent corporate home, we completed a merger with our European partner who was based in England.
The corporate head of HR, who was English, hired the head of a Welsh theater company who had worked for John Cleese of Monty Python fame, to create a three-act play that compared and made fun of American versus English culture, primarily focusing on the differences between baseball and cricket.
It was very balanced and very clever. We put this on in the UK and in three locations in the US, creating a video for our international team. This is referred to as the launch of the new, combined company.
It was great fun to experience and enormously expensive to produce… and it didn’t help a bit in overcoming resistance to change on an individual, team, or organizational levels.
Leaders need to be as creative and insightful in creating an impetus for change, and a memorable event or two along the way is certainly helpful. Do not let pomp trump circumstance.
Misconception #3: Time takes care of everything.
It would be very convenient if as time passed, the raw feelings and grievances, real or imagined, just faded away. But the reality is some people have such a difficult time with change that they prefer to hang on and refuse to let go of the “good old days”.
The reality is that for some, especially those who legitimately had a great deal of ownership at what had been developed in the past, do have logical reasons for having a hard time letting go.
If leadership also fails to acknowledge the contributions of those along the way or actually denigrates them in some manner, it will only lengthen the transition process.
Leaders need to be able to drive change down to the lowest level possible in an organization. You must say goodbye to the past in a respectful manner because no matter how radical a shift you may be taking, the past was a prologue to the present. Reinforce its foundational importance.
Misconception #4: Those not on board with the change have something wrong with them.
There are two problems here, one of timing and one of reality.
You cannot expect large groups to adapt to change in a lockstep fashion; people progress at different rates.
Secondly, in the short run change can often be challenging or difficult for customers and it not only feels less comfortable than before, but it actually is for the clients and those who work most closely with them.
Leaders need to listen to suggestions along the way to continually improve on all new processes. They cannot allow themselves to abandon new approaches because of naysayers, but how they accommodate new ideas along the way can assuage many of these concerns.
Misconception #5: If the communication is done “right” the first time, that’s enough.
There needs to be a great deal of effort and forethought put into the process of communicating the new reality efficiently and effectively. Even more importantly, everyone needs to be apprised of the progress along the way and the milestones that point to normalizing around a common way of doing business.
You must look at the pipeline of communication that needs to be developed and consistently delivered over a multi-year process.
Leaders need to follow this advice from Winston Churchill:
If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use the pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back in hit it again. Then hit a third time, a tremendous whack.
- What is the purpose of this change or structural shift (merger, acquisition, realignment, etc)? How and when shall we measure its success?
- Do I have a transition team in place that is charged with implementing, measuring and tracking progress for all to see?
- Am I committed to a plan of communication that is consistent, transparent and compelling?
I look forward to your thoughts and comments.