Why Are Organizations So Bad At Managing Change?

If only I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard the worn-out truism, “the only constant is change!” I would be wealthy, but possibly none the wiser. If change is so constant, why aren’t companies good at it? If we know that things are predicted to become more complex, more quickly impacted by advances in globalization and technology, why don’t we pay more attention to how change impacts our organizations?

I am a fan of Gandhi’s famous challenge, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I believe people must be ever watching for ways to influence the positive outcomes of the circumstances they are in. Sitting on the sidelines complaining that “someone should really do something about this” creates a cynical, passive community. One more adage that rings true is, “if it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”

OK, enough of tired maxims and back to the issue of managing change. the point I’m making is that with the wealth of wisdom and experience around us, why are organizations so ineffective at managing change? And what can individual managers and employees do to positively influence the outcomes of changes that are unceremoniously thrust upon them?

When I decide to change something in my life, I confront the reality that something has to give. In order to develop a new habit, achieve a specific goal, or move in the direction I have chosen, I have to give up some things that hinder me from my objective while embracing behaviors and attitudes that propel me forward. But when I am not in control of the change, I naturally resist.

This simple truth is where organizations fail miserably. With a sense of urgency, sometimes panic, managers push ahead and just assume (or hope) that everyone will come along eventually. Forgive me one more maxim: Hope is not a strategy! The lack of a change strategy means certain delay, stunted development of required new skills, and decay of morale within the workforce.

Change management strategy is seen as optional; a luxury if you have the time – and no one has the time. At best, change management is relegated to a functional group, usually human resources or IT (for information technology changes), and consists of some high level communication about the change, and usually some training. But it’s not enough, and often does more harm than good.

The first step toward more effective change in our organizations is to infuse the culture with an understanding that managing change is as important as the change itself – a non-negotiable part of introducing any new procedure, policy, or technology. Accountability across functional and hierarchical lines makes change management a way of life.

So what does a good change management process look like?

Anticipate. Be aware of what changes are likely to occur. Remove the element of surprise and make it everyone’s job to know what new technologies, competition, economic shifts, and efficiency opportunities might have an impact on a business unit or the whole enterprise.

Communicate. Communicate early and often. Get ahead of the rumor mill and share as much as you can, creating truthful messaging, even if there is more to come. Make sure every level of management has talking points and model positive communication throughout the organization.

Strategize. Adopt a change management model as an organization and make sure everyone is trained thoroughly in the principles of change. Then, as new processes, programs or technologies are introduced, use the model to strategically implement the change. This consistent approach will create trust and will have a calming influence on your organization.

Accountability. Hold managers accountable for how they manage change. If you’ve equipped them with the tools to do change well, then make it a part of their performance expectations.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Organizations need a concentrated changing of the collective mind when it comes to change management. It cannot be optional, it cannot be haphazard; it must be well-designed if it is to be effective.

Here are some resources that will help…



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