Change is constant. Everyone knows it, even if no one likes to admit it. There is nowhere this statement is more true than in business. Companies that were once market leaders (e.g., Compaq Computer, Montgomery Ward) no longer exist today. Companies that no one had ever dreamed of a decade ago (e.g. Facebook) lead the market and the headlines. Companies can grow and progress in ways they never expected (e.g., American Can Company somehow morphing into Primerica Financial Advisors). Market shifts drive the need to change and evolve. Just ask the employees of American Airlines as they get ready to merge with US Air.
The trick with all these change efforts is that far too many are not successful. Sure, the mergers get closed and the logos transform. But even simple stuff like installing a new computer system can be fraught with headache and frustration, if not downright disappointment. Depending upon which study is cited, the various research suggests that something like 75 percent of corporate change efforts do not meet their stated goals. The question that needs to be asked is, “Why?”
Not long ago I began working with a colleague in an attempt to answer this question. This inquiry was driven by both of us working as consultants, and finding that far too much of our work was cleaning up the mess created by changes that didn’t turn out as planned. Drawing upon both peer reviewed research, original data, and personal experience; we came to one simple conclusion… a key driver of failure in change efforts is that too many people look at the changes as individual activities rather than a coherent journey towards the organization’s strategic goals (Brown & Royston, 2013).
Once we identified the problem, we then looked at what a possible solution to this dilemma could be. After digging through the available data, we found some commonalties among the more successful changes. When we integrated those commonalities into a single model, we found that best thing to do is manage the change journey through five simple activities:
- Create Awareness: Recognize the need for change
- Plan the Change: Set up processes to make it successful
- Enable Readiness: Prepare the organization, the systems & the people
- Coordinate Efforts: Integrate with other activities
- Execute the Plan: Follow the plan, measure the outcomes and adjust if necessary
While we had a hard time identifying any one organization that we could point to as performing all these activities and calling them by these names, it was not hard to see that most successful organizations did some degree of this model, even if they didn’t realize it. Moreover, the more of these activities they implemented, the more successful their change efforts were. Most importantly, those organizations that had continued success recognized that it wasn’t just this change or that change…it is the journey that matters.
Brown, J., & Rosyston, J. (2013). Journey management: Unleashing the strategic power of change. USA: JBG Press.
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About the Author
Jimmy Brown, Ph.D. is a senior level management consultant with seventeen years of experience leading efforts to develop and implement practical strategies for business performance improvement. Dr. Brown has held senior level consulting positions at leading firms such as Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Accenture, and Hewlett-Packard.