Startup Scaling

How to implement successful and sustainable change processes

When it comes to organizational change, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The most important factor in determining the success of a change process is how well it is tailored to the specific organization and its culture. To ensure a successful and sustainable change process, there are a few key steps that need to be taken.
implement successful and sustainable change processes
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September 22, 2022

How to implement successful and sustainable change processes

Imagine for a moment that you are walking with a group of hikers in the Peruvian Andes. The challenging hiking trail leads you through unfamiliar landscapes, past breathtaking natural formations, and impressively steep slopes. However, the guide focuses his explanations only on how far it is to the next hut or waterhole or how much water and food will be there. Thus, the beauty of the landscape falls by the wayside. Through this focus, you will experience the hike as little exciting or meaningful, no matter how fascinating it may be. By contrast, the experience would be quite different if the guide, in accordance with your mood and needs, would elaborate on the beauties and dangers of the landscape you are traveling through and rave about upcoming sights.

The experience of the fictional hiking group has much in common with the perception of change and digital transformation in organizations. According to the Boston Consulting Group, more than 85% of companies state that they are currently undergoing a transformation process. However, just below 30% of change projects achieve the goals set.

Why is that? – Change Processes

Most change measures in organizations deal with structure. For example, they involve adapting processes, policies, technologies, acquisition, and inventory management systems. Equally important, however, is internal change, i.e., changing internal attitudes, feelings, and thoughts of employees. After all, it is usually the organizational psychological factors (attitudes, corporate culture, values) that determine the success or failure of a change process. According to the motto: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast" (Peter Drucker).

The strong focus on the factual level is psychologically not surprising. In unclear situations, people like to rely on what appears to be tangible in the form of logical goals, processes, or measurable KPIs. Adjusting of the business model or switching to new systems in a changing market is undoubtedly important. However, what is often forgotten and sometimes deliberately disregarded are the personal ("I") and collective ("we") levels of change.

Change cannot be imposed top-down

For those involved, the goal must be to recognize the meaning and purpose of the change. Studies have shown that work activities that are perceived as meaningful, including the implementation of a change process, contribute to better engagement with the task. It also leads to higher motivation, and job satisfaction, as well as stress reduction and ultimately, higher life satisfaction (Ihmels, 2014).

What factors favor a successful transformation?

Managers play a central role in change processes. They must provide their team members with an answer to the "why and what for" even if they are not explicitly asked for it. Eliminating these sources of uncertainty and creating an inspiring picture of the future by approaching change openly and positively is the real guarantor of success. Furthermore, employees must have the opportunity to influence the change, no matter how small the impact. Participation creates cooperation, acceptance, and commitment.

Answer the questions of your employees

Employees often wonder what change means to them. They want to know how the change affects their area of responsibility, how they can influence it, and why the change makes sense. The team asks itself, what does the change mean for us? It wants to know what exactly is needed for the change, whether the team composition or team mission is changing, why that is, and what the benefit is for the team. Answer such questions in discussion rounds, in which you will also identify the opinions in the teams, and then subsequently reduce their skepticism in individual discussions.

However, you should remain as honest and realistic as possible. You can support these measures through open corporate communications (e.g. monthly change wrap-ups) in which you inform your employees about the latest developments.

Dimensions of organizational change

If we create a matrix based on the information we have so far, four dimensions can be presented:

Figure 1: Dimensions of holistic, successful change processes, adopted from Ken Wilber

From these dimensions, the components for successful and sustainable change processes can be derived:

→ In order for adjustments in the structural area (quadrants 2 & 3) to succeed, they must be accompanied by psychological measures (quadrants 1 & 4).

→ At the employee level (individual) the goal should be that internal attitudes favor change and do not block it. This can be achieved through the role model function of managers and the proactive answering of key questions.

→ In order to getthe collective "on board" the triad of values, vision, and sense of purpose should first be worked out together, e.g. through group discussions, training, and feedback rounds. This creates clarity about the behavior and processes required for implementation.

Now let's assume that the guide mentioned at the beginning, If the person who was leading your group through the Andes, would have taken advantage of psychological coaching (or similar) at the first hut. This would have been a game changer. Considering the above components would have made the experience and progress much more enjoyable and inclusive to everyone – simply successful.

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Written by
Raphael Herkommer
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Written by
Raphael Herkommer

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