Will you change – really?
Perhaps the greatest challenge to organizations today is their ability to change to meet the demands of evolving markets. Since the stakes are extremely high – certain organizational death for those who fail to make the grade – it would be reasonable to assume that this is a primary concern for leaders. If it is, then why do so many organizational change attempts fail so miserably? Empirical and anecdotal evidence from recent articles in Harvard Business Review suggests that the failure rate for organizational change initiatives is north of eighty percent. Yet surely our organizational leaders are generally competent!
Reflecting on more than thirty years focused on the human side of enterprise I believe it’s because the great majority of executives are basing their strategies on a misconception – the basic assumption that vital change should be initiated by the organization. Every successful change I’ve witnessed though has a common theme that flies in the face of such an assumption. In my experience substantial and enduring change has its origins in the individual not in the organization, its systems and/or infrastructure. In other words, change that works has to start with every person; it has to be initiated, designed, developed and sustained by every individual whose contribution is relevant.
Let’s accept that change begins with desire – an emotional position that’s familiar to people but which cannot be reflected in structure. The next and vital step is to translate this desire into a vision, to focus it so that people, each person in his/her own way, can assimilate it in his or her reality. The vision has to become real for each person; if not, it will be simply an illusion. Putting it to work requires experimentation, trials and adaptations, all demanding time and effort with possible failures as well as success before insights are achieved. It’s these insights, or ‘aha’ moments, that will convince individuals that they’re on the right track – nothing less!
We’re now at a point where new practices, based on changed personal perspectives and perceptions, will work for us and do so more effectively and efficiently that the old, safe and familiar routines. We can now strive for mastery of the resultant new practices enshrining them into our systems and infrastructure. If our efforts fail to reach this point then we revert to the time-honored behaviors that were increasingly misaligned with the changing reality. However, having achieved such a new, more aligned reality is no security for we are bound to repeat the process continuously if we’re not to stagnate – and all at the individual level.
So, how can the executive be sure that each individual is prepared for the needed changes? I’d like to recommend the following ten questions to be asked in sequence with careful appraisal of each response. Those responses that are less than satisfying demand in-depth probing and resolution – time well spent when you consider the rewards that will ensue.
When all ten of these questions have been fully and convincingly answered by each individual then everyone is ready to be the agent of change that will take the organization forward:
- Are you prepared to accept personal discomfort in return for possible benefit?
- Will you actively challenge your current perspectives and perceptions?
- Can you own, unreservedly, the responsibility for creating your own change?
- Will you work diligently to be the change you want to see in this organization?
- Are you ready to craft compelling stories to illuminate needed change among your peers?
- Are you prepared to assume some calculated risks and let go of present securities?
- Will you set aside some dedicated time and space to define your pathway forward?
- Can you strive to identify a vision that exceeds your personal security and survival?
- Will you become internally directed/ other aware versus externally directed/self focused?
- Are you ready to seek, identify, encourage and develop other leaders?
Individuals who respond affirmatively to these questions will support organizational change in the only way they know – through personal change. If the executive answer the same questions positively, they are ready to lead the needed changes.
If you can answer in the same vein along with your executive the organization has a very good to excellent prospect for survival and success. Go for it!
About the author: David Huggins MASc, FIoD, CMS is an experienced behavioral scientist and executive coach who’s dedicated to bringing out the best in individuals and groups. His insights and direct contributions have taken business leaders to elevated dimensions in performance. He can be reached through his websites at www.andros.org and www.polarisprogram.com