Why Do Change Initiatives Flop Far More Often Than They Fly?

Published in the Business Newsday May 24th 2012

As the business owner or leader of your team what is your most important job and focus? I want you to think about this question carefully because in it is the answer as to why the changes you want to see aren’t sticking. Sure any change that is driven by a bull pistle on its behind will happen but it will also have to be a change process that will involve you expending an enormous amount of energy telling, controlling and directing people every day. This is not something that you can sustain over a long period of time. And chances are you’ve resorted to statements such as “I am not here to parent people. Why can’t people do what they’re told? I’ve told them to do this countless times – I’m not telling them about this again!” Yet you do – the very next morning!  Because while you are fed up it’s your ultimate responsibility and you need your people to act in a certain way and your only method so far is to tell them. So have you concluded that your main focus is to just keeping telling and telling your people what to do until that magnificent day when they finally “get it”?

Ask any owner, team leader or entrepreneur what she wants for her business and she’ll talk about financial success, competitive products and services, a fabulous team culture and all that good stuff. Compare that to asking a new parent what she wants for her child and she’ll say “I want him to be healthy.” And I do remember my best friend giving me this exact response when I asked her if she wanted a girl or a boy. She went for healthy baby.

Ok. I’ve kept you in suspense long enough! Your job as the leader of your organization or team is to take 100% responsibility for keeping your company healthy so think back to my example in the first paragraph and ask yourself “is this approach a healthy one?”

Going back to the parent analogy – the real job of parents is to give their children the environment and the tools they need in which to thrive and to prepare them for the world which is full of uncertainty, paved with unrelenting disappointment and untold of joy and everything else in between!

In his new book ‘The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business’ author Patrick Lencioni says “Ultimately, parents can neither predict nor control how their kids turn out, but they can give them a life free of unnecessary dysfunction and stress – and clarity about boundaries. Similarly, the head of an organization has to make it healthy. The key is to create an environment where people can thrive, without unnecessary dysfunction, confusion and politics. This requires a cohesive team at the top, clarity, communication, and reinforcement through human systems. By doing this, owners can provide their people with the opportunity to succeed in ways that even they couldn’t have anticipated.”

Change initiatives flop usually because

  1. There is no clarity:
  • What are the challenges that we face?
  • Are these the REAL challenges or are other things contributing that we cannot see or have not addressed?
  • What specifically needs to change?
  • Are we being honest about the changes we say we want or are we saying one thing and acting in ways that are totally contradictory?
  • Can we agree that these are the changes to be made and that this strategy is the best one for us and one we can uphold with integrity?

If you are not clear or your leadership team is not clear how in God’s name do you expect your staff to be clear?

  1. There is no belief

It’s one thing to be clear but do you believe in the change goals that you’ve set for yourself and your team? If you don’t believe then the first person to sell on the change initiative is yourself. Your employees will smell your lack of conviction a mile away and respond to THAT more than anything you TELL them. And even if you believe it can happen, you must believe that it will because your present employees can carry it through. If you don’t believe that your employees are capable then whose fault is that? If you didn’t hire them or spoke up regarding your concern about your company’s hiring policy you might have a different situation on your hands.

If you do not understand your company’s culture any change initiative will false-start.

“Where is the culture of your business? Is it in the building, the equipment, the intellectual property, in your products and services?” Of course not! It’s in your people. But where in the people is the culture? Your answer needs to be “in their hearts and heads.” Culture is the sum total of the emotions, experiences, beliefs and expectations of everyone involved in the organization. This is the collective mind. Until you figure out how to change this – NOTHING WILL HAPPEN.

Of course you can change your culture in a day by firing 100 percent of your people!

  1. There is no consistent and compelling rationale for change

In ‘The Seven Arts of Change’ David Shaner says “The need to change is usually met with resistance. Most people value predictability, even if it’s predictable mediocrity. If the leader of change cannot offer a consistent and compelling rationale for change, he will fail to win the collective mind of the organization and change will not happen.”

This compelling reason to change must not only be due to the urgent business crisis or because you are the boss and you think that it’s best. It must also include a commitment to support and enable each individual to grow and develop personally.

So for all of us who keep thinking that our parenting skills are only for home – think again! If the workplace is not a vehicle for desirable personal growth and development then forget about pursuing any change initiatives.

Only when people can trust you, when they understand their roles and can participate meaningfully in the direction of the business, when they can participate in the rewards that accompany superior achievement – then and only then will you have an organization that will undergo transformation with people who know why they are giving you 120%!

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