A recent blog post by Ron Ashkenas and Rizwan Khan on HBR.org makes some excellent points about why many change initiatives fail. “Many managers, even at the most senior levels, don’t fully appreciate the difference between announcing a major change initiative and actually making it happen,” they write. “When senior leaders disappear after a big change announcement, and leave lower-level managers to execute it, they are missing in action. And it’s probably more common than most realize.”
“The announcement is the easy part; it makes the manager look bold and decisive. Implementation is more difficult, because no matter how good and compelling the data, there will always be active and passive resistance, rationalizations, debates, and distractions−particularly when the changes require new ways of working or painful cuts. To get through this, leaders have to get their hands dirty, engage their teams to make choices, and sometimes confront recalcitrant colleagues−none of which can be delegated to subordinates or consultants.”
Most organizations know that communications need to be planned around announcing a change. It’s a sales pitch of sorts. But to be both successful and sustainable most change initiatives really must cultivate understanding and commitment, and clearly communicate what specific actions need to be taken. This is critical because as soon as a change initiative is announced, nearly every direct report in the organization will turn to his or her immediate supervisor manager and ask, “What does it mean? How does this affect our department? How does this affect me?” so while you can’t delegate change, organizational leadership must craft a plan prior to the official announcement for change that will provide managers with the information they need to correctly and consistently answer these important questions.
Change, even change that’s perceived to be positive in an organization is difficult because you’re not only dealing with the change event, but also every individual’s psychological orientation to the change. William Bridges’ work on Managing Transitions provides many skillful strategies to help this process. And at the core of every successful transition is a clear communication plan and a very strong feedback loop.
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Shannon Bayer is the Director of Workshops and a Principal Consultant at Linkage. She specializes in providing facilitation and program design for innovation and change leadership. She also works with organizations to improve team effectiveness, negotiation, and coaching. Follow her on Twitter @ShannonJBayer.