John Kotter’s book Leading Change (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012) reported that 70% of change initiatives in organizations fail. As technology and the global marketplace evolve, organizational change has shifted from a “nice to have” to a business necessity, forcing organizations to become more adept at transformational change management (a change in organizational strategy and processes designed to be organization-wide).
Yet, if Kotter is correct, 70% of organizations would continue to suffer failure when implementing change. Why is this so?
Companies evolve as markets, consumers, technologies, and product needs shift, with the resulting organizational change ranging from minor adjustments to company-wide processes. Regardless of the size and impact of the change, staff members are impacted. The change itself can create tremendous fear, strife, and anxiety in employees.
Viewing change as an opportunity to evolve
Successfully managing change has become a core competency for organizations. Companies most likely to be successful in effective transformational change are the ones that no longer view organizational change as a discrete event, but instead see change as a constant opportunity to evolve the business. They anticipate change, have a culture that embraces it, are well prepared, and have discipline in their execution and follow-through.
The CEO or other leaders at the strategic level of an organization can direct and plan change. However, it is the responsibility of mid- and direct-level leadership and teams to implement, adjust, guide, and measure the change initiative. Multiple supporters of change at various levels in an organization contribute to driving successful change initiatives. Supporters and key players in transformational change are “change agents” who assist transformation by focusing on effectiveness, improvement, and development.
They generally operate under a leader’s future vision, seeing the potential for successful transformation and understanding both the impetus for change and the proposed future state of the environment after the change is completed. They work with others in the organization to communicate the need and direction for change, while listening and understanding concerns, obstacles, and issues surrounding the proposed change.
The change agent communicates and adjusts the vision based on the challenges identified and works to ensure that change successfully delivers the proposed outcomes. In addition, change agents work with individuals and teams in the organization to create additional change agents and to overcome resistance where it is identified. In most successful transformational change efforts, team-based approaches to implementing, guiding, and measuring change result in better buy-in and reduce the tendency to functionalize, or “stovepipe,” change initiatives.
Successful organizations embrace change as opportunities to evaluate and improve process, procedures, and structures. These organizations look to their leaders to identify and support areas for improvement, open communication channels, positive and healthy conflict resolution strategies, and cross-functional development processes.
Become a leader who creates meaningful change and makes a difference. With AMA’s resources, you can learn the specific tools and techniques of change agents.