Organizations don’t survive without the ability to regularly implement change to adapt to new situations and capabilities and seize opportunities. A few years ago researchers at Harvard Business School pulled together their finding on why change initiatives tend to get bogged down and don’t succeed. Their conclusions were based on extensive interviews with corporate leaders over many years. Here are the three biggest barriers and how to deal with them:
1.) Overcome Caution with Clear Accountability – In most cases, change requires managers in many parts of the organization to help carry out the change. Unfortunately those managers tend to be excessively cautious; they protect their current areas of responsibility, and put at a lower priority any extra effort required of them. At the outset, successful transformations require the leader spell out to everyone in the organization the details of the move from the current state to the desired new state. The leader must describe the major steps and deliverables and who within the organization will be held accountable to achieve these steps. It needs to be made clear that performance will impact performance appraisals.
2.) Recalcitrant Personnel Must be Dealt With – If a leader leaves in place a manager who is responsible for a key part of the change, but is constantly argumentative and reluctant to make a strong commitment to what is expected of him or her in implementing the change, it is disastrous to leave that person in place. Naturally, the leader needs to listen to any and all issues that people raise, but once proper modifications have been made to reflect this input, it is imperative to have committed individuals executing the plan.
3.) Overcome Initiative Gridlock with Clear Focus– Leaders need to be aware that they can easily overload the organization with too many changes. Initiative gridlock, where so many projects are active that resources get fragmented and everything bogs down, is the result when the leader lacks the insight and courage to discontinue, or never start, efforts that are not of the highest priority. Often the leader is reluctant to close an effort down, or not approve yet another initiative, for fear that he or she is making a mistake or missing an opportunity.
The above is not rocket science. These are things that all of us know, but experience shows they are hard to implement. Strong leaders understand that.