Articles - Leadership & Change Management

Change management - what are the key success factors?

The results of our latest Executive Horizons survey reveal that employee resistance and lack of involvement are two of the key challenges in successfully leading change. So what can you do to convince all your employees to buy into change management processes?

 

Strategy - see the big picture

The competitive advantages gained by companies in the current economic climate are often of a temporary nature, which means they are constantly obliged to innovate and implement new change management processes. This need to continually adapt poses a number of risks - relentless change, priorities that are forever being upside down and employee demotivation. Indeed, frenetic change can lead to teams losing a sense of purpose and in more extreme cases burn out. To break free of this downward spiral, leaders need to understand just how demanding change management processes can be, and that they require time and adequate resources at every level of the organization. However, as Mathis Schulte (Professor of Management and HR at HEC Paris) points out, change all too often takes place when a company already has its back to the wall or in response to a dire financial situation or a serious crisis – when they lack the necessary time or possibilities to clearly and calmly define in which direction they want to go.

 

Organization - develop a real culture of change

Change cannot be addressed solely from a strategic and financial perspective. It must also take into account organizational complexities and draw on the ability of employees to change. This can be achieved:

 

  • By establishing a company-specific ecosystem that encourages change
  • By developing the ability of employees to learn
  • By working on the organization’s agility and resilience.

 

Top-down change always generates resistance and cynicism. To win support, change must be constructed collectively using channels that give everyone the opportunity to make suggestions, offer solutions and set priorities. "Despite assertions to the contrary,” explains Gary Hamel, “people aren’t against change - they are against royal edicts.”

 

Engagement - involve all employees

In most cases successful change management relies heavily on behavioral shifts that are not imposed from on high but instead are based on experiences, encounters and sharing a common culture. It is particularly appropriate, therefore, to make use of the communities that informally govern the life of a company. Alexa Clay claims that any change is 10% about the quality of the initial idea and 90% about the communities that convey the idea. The challenge is to put aside a global approach to change and to adapt the message to the different populations that make up the company and whose interests diverge.

But be careful - a one-size-fits-all approach is not enough. To successfully implement business transformation, managers must be prepared to accommodate the chaotic nature of the change. This requires a great deal of flexibility both in terms of thinking and behavior.

 

Based on "How to lead change with success”, an interview with Mathis Schulte (HEC Executive Education, April 2016); “Build a change platform, not a change program” by Gary Hamel (McKinsey Quarterly, October 2014); and “5 tips for growing change-making communities in your company” by Alexa Clay (Fast Company, December 2013).