Many organisations struggle with the idea of change. There is a real desire to create something different, to evolve their organisation or to enhance efficiencies and effectiveness. However, there seems to be a real status quo within their business which creates an inertia that works against real change.
Many leaders expect that simply wanting change is enough to drive change. The truth is the only way to change occurs in an organisation is through thoughtful and planned actions. Regardless of expectations of senior leaders, it is the actions that occur throughout the organisation that will determine whether or not change can occur, and if it will be successful.
Breaking the status quo can be difficult. The context is created in the workplace and people learn the behaviours that suit the context. As change programs are rolled out, people rely on those old behaviours and ways of doing things which served them before, regardless of whether or not they will serve them after the change. There is comfort, certainty and ease in doing what you have always done. Doing something else requires effort and managing uncertainty.
Leaders therefore need to consider change as being a process of modifying the variables on which people build the status quo which will encourage people to break out of their status quo. As these variables are changed, it will not be possible to people to behave as they did before, and the organisation can be oriented towards new ways and processes which will deliver the desired change outcomes.
A leader can choose modify a number of variables which have a direct impact on the ability of people to retain the status quo, which forces them to participate in new ways.
- Context. By changing the way that people view the context that they behave in, they have to modify their behaviours to suit the new norms which are established by the leaders in that new context. Redefining the business, the goals and the context in which the organisation exists in the market, or the context of a team within the overall organisation, can allow the norms and patterns of behaviour to shift.
- Identification. How individuals see themselves in relation to the organisation, their teams and groups within the organisation, and how they categorise themselves will have a big impact upon the behaviours they choose. By ensuring that it is not possible for them to identify with the ‘old’ but rather with the ‘new’, they will choose behaviours aligned to that identity. This can mean changing teams and groups, logos, badges, ranks or symbols which identify with the old way of doing things, to new ones aligned to the desired change outcome.
- Resources. People in an organisations will rapidly align themselves to resources. Shifting resources, including budgets, headcount and political support from the old ways toward the new will change the way that individuals will align their actions and interactions within the organisation.
- Incentives. Ensuring that incentives are aligned to the new behaviour sets and desired outcomes is critical. Too often people are incentivised around old patterns and outcomes which ensure that unwanted behaviours and outcomes are carried forward into the new era.
- Structure. Modifying structure aligns resources, creates new power dynamics and drives focus . Changing structure by itself is rarely enough, but it is often a critical part of driving change within an organisation.
- Standards. In line with the new desired outcomes and the new desired behaviours will be a set of standards. It is critical that these standards are both clarified throughout the organisation and maintained by all under all circumstances. Allowing people, including the leaders, to behave in ways which do not serve the new goals ensures that people will see the change program as having no real commitment. They will then be encouraged to remain uncommitted.
One of the keys to creating a great change program is to ensure that there is certainty in the process. We can never guarantee the outcomes of change. We can, however, ensure that people are clear and have true, certainty over the process that will be undertaken and their role within it.
Organisational change is therefore a process based on action rather than expectation. Expecting people to shift from their status quo to something new, without modifying the underlying variables is a sure way to ensure change program will fail.
Being thoughtful and planned in the specific actions that you take to drive change will lead to the outcomes that you seek an enhanced engagement and motivation from those within your organisation that are asked to change.