Changing Change Management

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle”. Translated for business, this message may be interpreted to mean leaders can either act preemptively or reactively. If only the decision was so simple.

All leaders need to adjust to a rapidly changing environment. But in the business world, the track record for successful change management is mixed at best. When it comes to navigating change, we know a great deal about what doesn’t work: Failing to develop a clear picture of the organization’s future state. Failing to engage people across the organization in co-owning a future-state vision. Failing to develop a deliberate roadmap between the current environment and future state. Failing to communicate frequently about progress and challenges in the journey. Failing to regularly re-engage the organization in the future state vision. Failing to adjust the roadmap as conditions evolve.

Even with a well-documented body of knowledge about what doesn’t work, there is a dearth of success stories when it comes to change management victories. Still, every organization is faced with a continually changing operating environment.

We often think of rapidly changing business environments as those driven by technological development and new market entrants. But dynamic conditions are present in most areas of business. A recent article in Funeral Director Daily read “As our environment continues to experience frequent change, safeguarding your business by remaining vigilant and adapting to the world around you is becoming increasingly important. Funeral Homes are now having to contend with an unpredictable economic climate, regular staff shortages and quickly changing consumer needs. Digitalization is also becoming a bigger part of the industry; digital guests are interacting with services in unique but impactful ways. Those who remain flexible unlock unique opportunities while avoiding the potential hardships that come with inactivity”. No business is immune to rapidly changing conditions, even the funeral business.

What can leaders do to elevate their success with change management?

  • Recognize it for what it is – Change management can include process redesign, new tech and tools, or a refined go-to-market model. Whatever is included, there is always a behavioral change element to change management. And behavior change can be a challenge. According to Professor Megan Call at the University of Utah, “Behavior change is complicated and complex because it requires a person to disrupt a current habit while simultaneously fostering a new, possibly unfamiliar, set of actions. This process takes time, usually longer than we prefer”.  When leaders recognize part of their role in change management is to invite, support and facilitate behavioral change, it can clarify what’s necessary to advance the business and traverse forces that reinforce the status quo.
  • Act accordingly – Understanding the core elements required to stimulate behavioral change, leaders can align their energy with actions to support team members. Taking steps to (1) align the change effort with a clear description of success, (2) create co-ownership in the change initiative, (3) initiate relevant task, behavioral and social communications, (4) earn and sustain engagement in bringing the future-state vision to life will enhance the organization’s change acumen.
  • Identify opportunities for self-initiated disruption – Disruption happens. It’s a natural force as industries evolve. Fifth-century BC Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said “All is flux”. Twenty-five hundred years later, innovators create industry disruption to address evolving customer needs, interests, and preferences. At the same time, many businesses let change take them by surprise. Knowing the dynamic nature of business, and the continuous redefinition of “normal”, leaders have a decision to make—initiate change and innovate or react to external pressures. Self-initiated disruption serves two purposes. First, it preempts external disruption by existing competitors and new entrants to your business. Second, it grounds the organization in its reason for existing through the employees, customers, and stakeholders served.
  • Integrate preemptive change opportunity identification into regular business operating reviews – Broaden standard quarterly financial performance reviews to include conversations about indicators of changing customer needs, preferences, trends, operational improvement opportunities, new technologies applicable to your business, new vendor practices, and the like. This will identify seeds with the potential to grow into full-blown paradigm shifts for your organization.
  • Recognize change management is part of leadership and own it – French philosopher, Rene Descartes wrote, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. In the context of continuous change, develop your organization’s acumen in leading Champion a vision of where the organization is going in the evolution of who you serve and how you deliver to your customers.

Change is happening in your business right now. Why not step into change leadership through preemptive, self-initiated disruption and define the next chapter in your company’s story starting today?

Dave Coffaro is a strategic management consultant specializing in guiding businesses in navigating change. As principal of the Strategic Advisory Consulting Group, he works with services firms to accelerate growth and generate more favorable economics. His most recent book is Leading from Zero: Seven Essential Elements to Earning Relevance.

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