Change of any sort doesn’t come without some effort. Consider how a smoker faces the challenge of quitting. The smoker has to first make the goal of giving up a priority, and only then can the plan to quit be put into practice. There will be challenges, times when the effort seems too much. The initial enthusiasm to quit may disappear, and temptation to open a new pack can be strong. Old habits die hard.
Yet the smoker who really wants to quit, knows that to succeed needs more than simply a desire to quit. It takes time, effort, a lot of soul searching, and facing up to the ‘easy option’ of returning to the killer habit.
In many ways, the planning, effort, and reaffirmation needed throughout the journey of organisational change is no different to that of the smoker who wants to kick the habit.
In order to succeed in sustainable organisational change, you’ve got to think like a quitter!
Get your organisational change strategy in place before you start
Just like quitting smoking, organisational change must be a priority. It simply isn’t enough to want to change, you have to want to want to change. There has to be a driving desire, an absolute need to change.
This is what Steve Jobs did when he was recalled to a flagging Apple. He created the desire to change. He made people realise that without change, without the old innovative flair returning, Apple would simply be pulled down by gravity. He made change top of the agenda, placing it in a position of priority and making the need urgent.
To change, don’t be sacred to give something else up… in fact, do give up!
There will always be something on the to-do list that will obstruct change if you allow it to. The smoker might have a social event that means it will be ‘difficult’ to give up just yet. If you have decided that organisational change is a must, then other lesser priorities must be taken off the list.
With organisational change, it is imperative to create a sense of urgency. Change must become a priority for everyone. The need for change must be communicated effectively, with benefits clearly defined.
Take time to accelerate into the change gear
Making effective change takes time, and yet time is probably the one thing you have least of. Sponsors must be seen to devote time and energy to the change project. People notice, and if the CEO and other executives don’t appear committed then commitment will not come further down the line.
The responsibility for change, and for exhibiting the new behaviours required cannot be delegated.
Explain why you need to change
The smoker who wants to quit is at a distinct advantage here, in most cases. He or she only has themselves to convince, except in the circumstance, perhaps, where the spouse is a smoker, too.
When making organisational change, whole teams of people have to be convinced of the need to change and the benefits of doing so. The purpose of change must be communicated in a clear and concise way and answer these questions:
- Why the need to change?
- What are the goals of change?
- What exactly is being changed?
- Who will be affected and how?
- What are the individual and team benefits from the change?
These affirmations of change may need to be repeated many times, and then used when reaffirming the need to change when the will to do so weakens, just as the smoker who is tempted to have that ‘one last cigarette’ has to think through all the benefits of quitting (sometimes again, and again).
Sometimes it’s necessary to slow down to speed up the change in hand.
To make change stick, stay focussed
Smokers who are quitting, even the most determined, lapse when things get tough. The natural reaction to a stressful situation is to reach for that cigarette. It calms the nerves, gives the hands something to do, and helps the concentration. Or at least that is what the smoker thinks. Actually, the act of reverting to the old habit is no more than coming back to a comfort zone.
Change must not be distracted. Stay focussed on the end goal, reiterate the aims, advantages, and benefits. Above all else, remain disciplined.
This is especially true of change leaders. If a change leader reverts to the old ways, all the wrong messages will be sent. Soon everyone will be back to the old way of working.
Know that there will be tough times ahead when you plan for organisational change, and you will be able to plan for those tough times, committing proper resources and making real commitment to work through any potential roadblocks that might hamper organisational change.
Get everyone educated to change
A quitting smoker needs a support mechanism. The best way to do this is to enlist the help of family and friends, letting them know why it is important and what each can do to help the smoker kick the habit.
It’s the same with organisational change. Get people involved. Let them know what their roles are, what is expected of them, and how they can become involved in the change process.
This is employee engagement at its most active. Don’t imagine that people can be dictated to. They must buy into the organisational change project, and feel like they own it. This process has to start before the change initiative is implemented. Communicate… a lot.
Change is hard work. It’s never a walk in the park. It takes time, effort, education, confirmation, and reconfirmation. It takes willpower and discipline. Prioritise change with all these needs in mind, and your organisational change will be successful. Fail to do so, and you’ll be killed by the smoke before you know there’s a fire to put out.