Change is inevitable. So are challenges. The much-cited statistic — 75% of change efforts fail — keeps holding, in spite of decades of growth in the field of change management.
The need to figure out how to “do change” has many companies seeking outside help for their change efforts, from hiring a single consultant to engaging one or more firms to help initiate and implement critical new initiatives.
As an HR or learning and OD professional, you may be the one to bring in change advisors or hire a consulting firm. Here are 5 questions you should explore as you embark on major changes and before you start evaluating possible partners.
1. What is changing?
Be specific about what is changing and why. Has a new strategy been set in response to market conditions? Is a merger pending? Is innovation now an imperative?
Within the change, what is clearly going to be different, what will stay the same and what is uncertain? Where are you in the process? What is the timeline and level of urgency? What happens if the change fails?
Also, as you map out which functions or levels or locations will be affected, describe the nature of the change. Will people need to change the way they work individually (for example, an IT system that means adopting completely new procedures) or change the way they work collectively (in new teams or across different boundaries, for example)?
Is a mindset shift required — do they need to think differently about themselves, the brand or the market?
2. What’s going on with the senior team?
Whether the executive team is initiating major organizational change or managers are enacting change within their function, the people in charge can be an obstacle or an asset.
How aligned and committed is the senior team? Does senior leadership take sides or are they “all in” with the change? What are the team dynamics? What is their readiness to lead the change? Or do they see themselves doing the change work, or delegating the change effort?
If you are part of this team, these questions may be easier to answer than if you are not; either way, these can be difficult to address.
Be sure the change advisor you choose is equipped to deal with senior team dynamics alongside the change process.
3. Are we struggling to manage or struggling to lead?
Too frequently, leaders focus on the measurable, technical side of the business. They manage the business and manage the change.
While business systems are indispensable tools, structural change management is only half the equation. To gain the desired results from a new direction, system or initiative, you need the benefit of change leadership along with change management.
Change leadership is the human side of change. It is what aligns talent and culture with the strategy. It is about how people work and how they feel about the work.
You’ll want to identify the beliefs and behaviors necessary to face change and execute the business strategy — and invest in developing leaders who are capable of navigating the phases of change and help others through as well.
4. Is who we are getting in the way of what we need to do?
This is the culture question, and it often comes up when change isn’t going well or isn’t resulting in expected outcomes.
Culture can make or break a strategy, a merger or a business transformation.
Leaders create and sustain culture by how they communicate, decide, focus and engage with each other and the organization. These choices express and change “who we are, what we believe, and how we do things around here.” These powerful cultural norms determine how your organization grows its capabilities and achieves its goals.
Organizational culture can be strengthened or changed, integrated with another culture, or fundamentally transformed, depending on the gap between the culture you have and the culture you need.
5. What kind of help do we want?
Change consultants and advisors come in many packages. Do you need technical or expert advice on the structure, systems and processes you are changing? Change management support? Or, are you seeking to develop the leadership and organizational capabilities to get the job done?
Do you need a turnkey approach or are you willing to knit together various external and internal partners?
Also, consider whether you prefer a prescriptive approach or facilitative approach. The first involves the consultant providing a diagnosis and recommendation based on their expertise and with less collaboration and input from your team. The second focuses more on the dynamics of the client and process, with active team and leader involvement. Solutions are shaped and co-created.
Most efforts will combine some of each, but if you have a strong mismatch between expectation and approach, you and your leadership team will be disappointed and your change efforts will suffer further.
The answers to these questions are never simple — but they will help you identify the people and the approach that your organization needs to improve the process and outcomes of change.