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By Keith Barnwell


There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things” – Niccolo Machiavelli

Change is an ever-present part of any business, particularly in today’s difficult economic climate. Successful organisations must be alert to new opportunities and prepared to adapt swiftly.  Many factors may influence the need for change, including:

  • Customer demand
  • New market opportunities
  • Technology and innovation
  • Economic conditions (positive and negative)
  • Government legislation/initiatives
  • Competition
  • Mergers, acquisitions, business restructure

If change is so prevalent in today’s businesses, why do so many change programmes fail?  Research by the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) suggests that less than 60% of re-organisations met their stated objectives.  Also, a 2013 study by the US based professional services company Towers Watson found that only 25% of change management initiatives are successful over the long term. The Change and Communication ROI Survey, also found that:

  • While 87% of respondents trained their managers to “manage change”, only a dismal 22% felt the training was actually effective.
  • 68% of senior managers said they’re “getting the message” about reasons for major organizational changes, but that figure falls to 53% for middle managers and 40% for front-line supervisors.

Getting change wrong can negatively impact your organisation, its people and its wider stakeholder community.  If it’s your job to develop and/or implement a major change programme, you should ensure that you are asking the following questions:

Is a change really needed?  A successful change programme can be time consuming and expensive, so confirm that there is a legitimate need, and that you fully understand the problem and have investigated each possible solution thoroughly.  Seek to understand why things are as they are, you may discover that there are logical reasons behind the current practices.  If change is required, be sure to understand the potential positive results from implementing the change. If you are going to implement major changes make sure you give them time to bear fruit. Constant change without good reason can be extremely disruptive, counterproductive and unsettling to many.

Why is this change important?  What’s important to you isn’t necessarily important to other people!  Be clear about the purpose behind the proposed change and the problem solved/value gained before embarking on a change programme of any size.

Have you got sufficient ‘buy-in’?  Most change programmes require the support of many people from different areas.  Keep in mind that while some people embrace change, for many, change is uncomfortable.  Be constantly aware that change often requires the loss of something old and perhaps deeply valued, as much as the gaining of something new. Regardless of need, others may receive your proposed changes with apathy, skepticism or even hostility.  Remember that different people will be at different places on the Change Curve so try to anticipate and understand the

The Change Curve
The Change Curve

potential reactions from the various stakeholder groups, especially the individuals most likely to influence large groups.   Fear of change is perfectly normal; you should consider this and take the following steps to minimise the anxiety:

  • Be honest and transparent
  • Involve others early
  • Talk to those who will be most affected, and listen to what they say!
  • Create champions to influence large segmented groups
  • Communicate regularly using multiple channels (meetings, team talks, newsletters, blogs, emails, work groups etc)

WIIFM?  Let’s face it – changing the way something is done will involve, at least initially, additional effort.   Take time to craft a targeted, credible WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) message for each of your stakeholder groups that is designed to motivate them to support your initiative.  Remind them of the purpose of the change programme, the anticipated outcome and how that will ultimately benefit them directly.

Have you got the support you need?  No matter how great your ideas or how hard you work, a successful change programme requires support from senior management.  Whether it’s directives, policies or resources, be sure to leverage the influence of those in senior positions to help you achieve greater success and minimise administrative hurdles.

Have you got a clear plan?  This is the critical point. Without a comprehensive plan, your change programme has little chance of success.  Identify specific actions, due dates, who is responsible for each action and who will approve.  You may also want to highlight problematic areas with a red/amber/green indicator, and a risk register.  Your plan should be detailed enough that it can be used as a roadmap for progress to ultimate success and should identify the objectives, how success will be measured and the start/end dates.  On larger change programmes, it may be sensible to include several review milestones to take stock of how the programme is going and determine if any changes need to be made to the plan.

Is the message getting across?  Communication is essential to any change programme. Your stakeholders need frequent instruction, reminders and motivation to keep up the initial momentum.  We all receive an enormous amount of information each day; therefore you will be competing with other initiatives for their attention.  Be sure to use all relevant communications channels to engage with your stakeholders and always target the message to the reader as much as possible.  Building the case for change requires relentless selling supported by crystal clear and compelling messaging tailored to suit the audience and you should constantly seek out new ways to engage others.  Don’t forget to seek their feedback as to how they perceive the change programme working, as they may have great input that will improve the overall effectiveness.

Are you getting good PR?  Leverage early success to build excitement.  Quick wins and early success will attract attention and help you to build momentum for the change project. Make sure that you are spreading the good news far and wide.  Use real people and quotes or statistics whenever possible for maximum impact.

Are you a change ambassador?  Building and sustaining change momentum requires a passionate ambassador.  Keep moving; talk to as many people as possible and always remember to listen.  Constantly keep your plan under review and be prepared to respond to feedback.

And finally, if all of that has dampened your enthusiasm to change, I leave you with this thought:

Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future – John F. Kennedy

Thank you for reading and please share this post with others who you think may find it helpful.

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This is an extract from the LeaderFocus App for the iPad available on iTunes.  To learn more and to download the LeaderFocus App click on the icon.  Keith Barnwell is a leadership development specialist and executive coach at It’s All About Leadership