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Change Management: teaching old dogs new tricks isn’t easy

Did you say “change?”

You know that expression about “teaching old dogs new tricks . . . ?” Well, it’s true. In fact, it’s worse than that—I’m having trouble teaching my two-year-old Dalmatian new tricks and he isn’t even middle aged. My dog only wants to do what he already knows how to do —and, what he already likes to do. Even if means breaking the rules and sitting on furniture that he’s never allowed on. New stuff? Nah, not for him.

It’s not just old dogs that resist changing or learning something new. People have the same problem. Remember your New Year’s resolutions that never turned into reality? Maybe it was to lose weight, exercise more, learn a new language, or something else. Behaviorists say that unless you have a lot of determination, inspiration and dedication over a twenty-one day period, it’s incredibly difficult to change an old, ingrained behavior or start a new habit. Some experts think it takes even longer—sixty-six or more days—to form a habit that sticks. That explains why it’s hard to put well-intentioned resolutions into effect.

If that’s the case for just one person, imagine how hard it is to get lots of people in an organization to change, so that everyone is moving at the right pace, in the right direction. Think about getting twenty people to change or 200 people to change. What about 2,000? Yet that’s what organizations attempt to do all the time. Whether it’s a merger or acquisition, a management reorganization, downsizing or deploying a new, enterprise-wide technology, getting people to buy into a new thing—whatever it may be—is one of the most challenging tasks executives and managers try to do.

Too often the business people leading big changes within the organization do not know how to create or sustain change. Many times, they are winging it, hoping that something works. And we know from the failure rates of many technology-focused projects that successfully navigating organizational change is dauntingly hard to maneuver.

Despite their lack of experience and formal knowledge, there is a way forward for business leaders who don’t know how to lead their organizations in successful change. Our recently published report, “Organizational Change Management: An (Emerging) Core Competency for Customer Experience Management,” takes a look at organizational change management, which is one of the ten core competencies needed by customer experience management project teams. We define organizational change management as:

The intentional effort by senior leaders to positively influence employee, workforce, and organizational acceptance of strategic changes throughout the firm, agency, department, or group by communicating the urgency behind the business strategy, identifying and communicating strategic goals, building ongoing awareness of the need for change, delivering a steady cadence of communication to individuals and the workforce, practicing active listening, and creating a supportive culture.

Our report goes on to describe the most often used organizational change management techniques and methodologies, including the Eight-Stage Change Model from John Kotter, and the ADKAR methodology from Prosci. It’s good to start any change initiative with these two approaches (in the sequence just mentioned). However, sometimes executives find that they need additional guidance for operationalizing and measuring new changes. In those instances it helps to follow additional approaches, such as the Four Disciplines of Execution by Sean Covey or The Rockefeller Habits.

Examining case studies for other companies that have already embarked on change management is also illuminating. Our report showcases two organizations; one that initially failed to successfully implement a content management system, but ultimately overcame its obstacles, and the other a highly successful professional services company that executed on an ambitious, acquisition strategy across the globe. Taken together, some of the key lessons learned from the two organizations are:

• Create a vision, document the strategy and then make sure everyone understands it and what it takes to realize the vision. Use the strategy document as a guiding blueprint so that everyone is on the same page, and everyone knows where the organization is headed.

• Invest in building relationships, time for collaboration, and new collaborative and information-sharing technologies across geographic regions to create a corporate culture across all employees.

• Communicate, and don’t stop communicating the message repeatedly, recognizing that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and all the planning in the world cannot overcome cultural resistance.

• Form an internal advisory panel comprising employees from across the organization that hosts internal blogs, holds Q&A sessions and sponsors drop-in sessions. Sponsor meetings throughout the organization, and work as evangelists to build support for organizational change.

For more detail, look at the full organizational change management report. Additional advice can be found at:

“From change management to organizational readiness”
“IT’s role in organizational change management”
“Use change management to build an operational excellence culture”
“Resistance is futile, change is inevitable”

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