Change your mindset, change your culture.

Frustrated with workplace changes that never seem to stick?  Change your mindset, change your culture.

In my consulting work, I often come alongside a leader as he/she endeavors to bring about their vision.  Or, work with a leadership team that has been charged with implementing organizational changes or transformation.  Inevitably, as we do the hard work of implementation the question comes, “Why does this have to be so hard?”

Popular opinion in today’s workplaces is that change is immediately resisted.  It’s a common misperception that people don’t like change or that people fear change.  Yes, the behaviors we see (or those we ourselves demonstrate) during times of change can look like resistance or fear.  And fear of change is real and present at times.  But, a lot less often than most of us think.

The secret no one tells you.

The energizing truth is only a very small percentage of people are actively resisting the change we are working so hard to implement.  Here’s a secret I’ll let you in on.  Reflect back on your entire career.  Add up all the changes you’ve envisioned, led and implemented.  Now, what would you say if I told you in all those combined experiences, the secret no one tells you is that only about 20% of the impacted people are truly resisting?  How does that compare with what you felt and saw?

For decades we’ve heard that 70-75% of change efforts fail to meet stakeholder’s expectations or realize the benefits that were intended.  But, pull that sentence a part and let’s take a closer look.

What do we mean “Fail to meet stakeholder’s expectations?”  How many stakeholders are we talking about?  And how many different expectations do they have?  Does failing to meet a certain stakeholder’s expectations really mean the change effort itself failed?  Could it be that a certain group of stakeholders had expectations that were completely unrealistic?  Or, is it possible as the change leader, we did a lackluster job of setting clear expectations at the start?

Let’s consider for a minute the 2nd part of the sentence.  “[Fail to] realize the benefits that were intended.”  This doesn’t say none of the intended benefits were realized.  What if 50-60% of the benefits were realized?  How about 75%?  How would that effort be rated in terms of success or failure?  Do we all agree that the entire effort should be deemed a failure if ALL the intended benefits weren’t realized?  Is it possible we’ve become so accustomed to the standard stats “70-75% fail” that it no longer surprises us?  So, we no longer dig deeper or question further?

Having personally led organizational change for 20+ years, I would take an initiative in today’s environment that achieved 75% of its’ benefits.  I might even take one that achieved 50% and argue that it was a success.  Right?!  Otherwise, what are we to do? Are we saying that because we’ve heard from every consulting firm for the last several decades that the vast majority of organizational change fails, we’re going to throw in the towel and stop trying?  No leader worth their stock could accept that defeatist mentality. 

It’s time for a new mindset and new behaviors.

After years of hearing about the failures and all the “perceived resistance,” our relationship with change is warped and unhealthy.   Not to mention our old change management approaches are outdated and no longer sufficient for today’s pace of change.

Over the last decade, I’ve honed a different approach I recommend to clients and teach to change leaders in organizations.  Consider these four mindset shifts, necessary for today’s faster, changing world.

  • Accept that constant change is our new norm.  We must recognize and accept that change is never going to stop.   We are never going back to a time when our organizations had 4-5 major changes a year.  The Center for Creative Leadership describes it this way: “Today’s organizations are treading water in a sea of change, uncertainty and unprecedented challenges.”  Instead of constant change, I dare say we should call it constant transition.
  • Reset expectations with our stakeholders.  In modern business, successful change initiatives morph and adapt along the way as the environment around them constantly shifts.  The initial benefits of a planned change might evolve over time and our stakeholder’s expectations must be set accordingly.   Appropriate positioning and messaging at the start, can establish different expectations.  Expectations that the outcome we achieve may look slightly different than the one we’re planning now.  That’s ok though.  Are we further than we’ve ever been?
  • Think and communicate in terms of iterative pictures of success.   Past failures have made it harder to sell the benefits of today’s necessary changes.  As change leaders, we have to own those past failures and provide a new story line. The solution is breaking the ultimate success picture into smaller “mini-frames” teams can aim for and receive constant feedback regarding progress.
  • Adopt a teaching mindset.   While creating stakeholder buy-in helps acquire resources and gets change off the ground, it doesn’t sustain the change. Change that sticks must be internalized at the working level of the organization.  Front line employees and mid-level managers are the critical mass that create the tipping point change needs.  Yet most often, in global business today, we’re asking this population to do things they’ve never seen or done before in their careers.  This makes change harder than it has to be.  By shifting our own behaviors and acting as teachers, by showing our employees what the new behavior looks like and role modeling around every turn, we create space for them to learn and grow.

IBM’s latest report tells us 120+million workers need to be retrained to stay relevant in the workforce.  And, what’s the number #1 skill executives say they need most in their workforce?   The willingness to be flexible, agile and open to change. 

The prospect of accomplishing this through internal training departments, external consultants and individual development plans is daunting.  Many organizations have formed highly effective partnerships with adult education providers, higher ed and tech schools.  Even these avenues, while effective, can’t keep pace.  Today’s organizations have to leverage the power from within.  Changing mindsets, changes culture.  And culture rules the day!

Are you leading change in your organization and looking for a partner to assist?  Are you responsible for employee engagement initiatives and need fresh ideas to help employees navigate workplace change?  Call me! I work with organizations committed to significant growth and helping their employees navigate the changes that come along the way with ease.