The four components of leading successful change

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2 March 2017 | 3:00 min read


Organisational change comes in all different shapes and sizes, but one thing that many transformations have in common is that they are hard work. The latest McKinsey Global Survey found that companies are no more successful at implementing organisational change than they were ten years ago.

In today’s fast moving world, many more organisations are going through change of some kind, which means that the incidence of failure is high. This can range from transformational reform that fundamentally changes an organisation’s paradigm, structure or operating model, to gradual, transactional change brought in to improve a process, system or way of working.

Change can be short or long-term, planned or unplanned, and major or minor in scope and impact. Change can occur at a system, organisational, business unit, team and individual level. For example, we have recently worked with a government department to support the re-design of service delivery across the whole system; with an organisation implementing a significant restructure; and with a leadership team seeking to grow their resilience and build their capability to drive change.

Whatever the type and scope of change, there are four key considerations for those leading the change process to support long-lasting, sustainable change.

1. A common framework

Having a shared language and framework for understanding and talking about change is valuable. A strong framework can help make the case to leadership for a particular change management approach, and can guide managers in how they lead change and support their teams.

There are a number of different change tools and models. We use the Four Rooms of Change® to understand change and empower leaders to drive change. The Four Rooms of Change® is a methodology that helps people to own change and become more adaptable over time. Through the Four Rooms, leaders learn how they can influence change and take more responsibility for their actions. Those leading change also get a much clearer picture of how people are responding, enabling them to better guide the direction and pace of change.

We regularly use the Four Rooms of Change® in our work in education and health, and find it is a powerful framework for generating self-awareness and driving critical discussions around change.

All change leaders should establish a common framework around which to talk about and enact change in their organisation.

2. A coherent strategy

When building a strategy for change, it is important to consider how people experience change, as this will inform how we can best manage and embed change. People experience change at both an individual and collective level, and in both subjective and objective ways. 

At an individual and subjective level, people experience change in their personal mindsets, awareness, knowledge and feelings. At an individual and objective level, we see the impacts of change in how people are feeling physically, and how they are behaving and performing in the workplace.

At a collective and subjective level, we see teams respond in how their culture is expressed, the stories they tell and the way they feel as a group of people. At a collective and objective level, we see organisations adapt and respond through the systems that are in place, the way teams work together and the work they produce.

Any change strategy or change management plan should take into account the needs of individuals and groups, and consider internal and external factors, in managing change.

3. A compelling narrative

A narrative that builds belief and gains buy in is critical to the success of any change. Good narratives are compelling for staff, and clearly explain the rationale and create an imperative for change. They appeal to people’s non-rational and rational mindsets, by creating an emotional connection to the need for change, supported by concrete facts and evidence.

An example of a powerful narrative for change was the NSW Government’s announcement around the intention to ban greyhound racing last year. In announcing the proposed reform, Premier Baird combined facts and evidence with a highly emotive story around animal cruelty to create a strong case for change. While the reform was later reversed, the public discourse around the issue demonstrated how the change narrative resonated with key sections of the NSW community.

Good narrative has structure. A change narrative should set the scene (what is our history or current situation), face the issues (what are the challenges and opportunities we face), and come to a resolution (what we are changing to address these issues).

A change narrative needs to be authentic and ideally developed by, or with input from, leadership. It should also be consistent with the broader strategic narrative for the organisation.

4. A clear measurement system

Establishing a system for tracking issues and measuring success from the outset is key to evaluating change. Measuring tangible outcomes of change can be difficult, due to the long term and (partly) subjective nature of many changes. Examples of possible measures could include:

  • Implementation – are we hitting key change milestones on time, to plan and on budget?
  • Issues – are we effectively identifying and addressing issues throughout the process?
  • Staff – are there impacts on staff morale, sentiment and retention?
  • Performance – are teams / divisions meeting performance objectives? 
     

Change is often complex, disruptive and difficult to manage. As change leaders, we need to seek to guide the process as best we can, to ensure the change meets its objectives and limits negative impacts on the organisation and its people. Considering each of these four components of change – a framework, strategy, narrative and measurement system – creates a strong platform for leading and embedding organisational change.