How to Avoid Making Changes That Don’t Result in Improvement 

By Jeff Chan 

A business recently implemented a major restructuring to turn the business around. During the restructuring a leader turned to me and said he was not sure if the restructuring really made the organization better. I hear this comment over and over again from project managers to C-Suite executives.

“Are we just changing, or are we really improving?”

At the heart of this question is the concern that an organization spends a considerable amount of time, energy, and resources devoted to a major project that is intended to make the organization faster, better, and smarter; but in the end has it really achieved its goals? Recent studies by several consulting firms and associations have all found that approximately 60-70% of major organizational change efforts do not reach their intended goals. These organizations do not get faster, better, or smarter in how they work.   

The research has shown that the key reasons why organizations do not achieve their goals is “change management.” The term change management has such a broad scope and many different interpretations or definitions. The majority of change management tools and models focus on building awareness and communication to stakeholders regarding the change in an effort to reduce and manage resistance. These things are all necessary but not sufficient to improve performance versus just changing.  

Deeper analysis into the reasons why organizations do not improve but just change shows a pattern of two common reasons: 

  1. Choosing the wrong change 
  1. Lacking leadership engagement and support 

Choosing the Wrong Change 

Leaders trying to improve performance of their teams look to change elements of their organizations and many times turn to tangible things such as organizational restructure, training, or new technology to solve their problems. These are all valid and good things, but many times structure, skills, or tools are not the cause of their performance problems. Identification of the root cause issue is a critical step to ensuring successful organizational change and performance improvement.  

To get to the right change to improve performance, start by asking these five questions:  

  1. Start with the end in mind – what is the desired business result (financial, customer, operational)?  
  1. Who in your organization is key to helping you achieve these business results?  
  1. What behaviors are needed by the employees to achieve the desired business result?  
  1. What is the new way of working that incorporates the behaviors that have been identified?   
  1. How can you get your employees to work in the new way?  

Leadership Engagement and Support 

A common scenario for many organizational changes is the excitement and energy around the launch of the change — a new technology goes live, a restructuring is announced, a merger or acquisition deal is done. But soon after the launch of the change leaders’ attention and focus move onto the next major change.  

The challenge with this is that employees who are impacted by the change are now just starting to work in the new way but have not yet realized the goals of the change. Change is like a rubber band — when you change you stretch the rubber band from its original shape to something larger, but the energy in the rubber band wants it to go back to the original form.   

This is the same with change. When a change is implemented, it is like stretching the rubber band to a new form. The energy in the organization wants to go back to the old way. It is critical that leaders’ focus and attention is to help employees fully adopt the new way of working that achieves a new level of performance and achieves the desired business goals and outcomes.   

Leaders can do three things to help ensure employees adopt and sustain a new way of working and achieve the desired business goals: 

  1. Focus on the behaviors that will lead to desired outcomes — Leaders need to help employees understand the linkage between the new way of working and the desired business goals and outcomes. The leaders should encourage and celebrate employees successfully working in the new way with the new behaviors.  
  1. Test, Monitor, Learn, Adjust — When a change is designed it is developed with the best of intentions, but it is still a hypothesis of what will achieve the business goals and desired outcomes. It is critical that leaders monitor the implementation to see if the change does indeed support a new level of performance and achievement of the desired business goals. The leaders should work with the teams to learn what in the change is working or is not working as intended and adjust.  
  1. Power of Presence — When leaders are actively engaged their presence shows to employees the importance of the change and the need for employees to be engaged. Leaders who do a great job of sponsoring change ask questions about the change, check-in with employees on progress, and celebrate with employees as they adopt new ways of working to achieve the desired business outcomes. 

As you are working on change initiatives in your organization make sure you are really improving the performance and helping to move the organization forward.  

Looking for some help getting started? CPED’s Change Management program will teach you strategies to effectively manage change and help employees adopt behaviors to support the change initiative. The Change Management Checklist will help you set the foundation for implementing a change project within your organization, and the Change Management Quick Start Guide will help you as you move through your change project.  

If you’d like a more hands-on approach to helping effectively implement and manage change within your organization, set up a Discovery Session and one of our Solutions Advisors will work with you to help your organization build the change agility and capability needed to thrive in today’s evolving business environment. 

Jeff Chan specializes in working with companies to improve organizational performance and productivity through expertise in change management and business transformation. He has held general management and senior human resource positions with BP/Amoco, Hewitt, Sears, Spiegel, and for the past 10 years has been the President of Chan Management Consulting.