This is a reprint from Switch and Shift.
Organizations going through a change initiative – or ones that have experienced significant change organically – can attest to one fact: Change is not easy.
Whether it’s implementing a new process, policy, or procedure – or trying to change the overall culture of an organization – there are more reasons the initiative will not succeed than reasons it will. That’s not to say that change is impossible. And with the right leadership and a committed team, any initiative can be successful. But there are always roadblocks.
And one of the most common roadblocks – one that surprises those leading the change?
The very people responsible for creating meaningful change are often the same people who inadvertently make it far more difficult than it needs to be.
Perhaps they fail to communicate not only the rationale for the change, but the expected results of the change. Perhaps they aren’t entirely sure about their level of contribution, and thus fail to lead effectively. Even more common: They unintentionally create logistical obstacles by not providing the right tools to create change, or by creating unreasonable or overwhelming deadlines. Deadlines that even those most committed and enthusiastic team cannot meet.
Smart leaders, however, know that to be a catalyst for change – instead of an obstacle – they must have enough self-awareness to know which tools are required to achieve change. In some cases, this means seeking additional education and training in leadership. In other cases, formal training isn’t necessary; a willingness to objectively assess one’s own behavior to identify problematic habits, however, is.
So what are the behaviors that block change? These are among the most common:
Failing to lead by example
In order for real change to occur, leaders must exemplify the new expectations.
After all, how can you sincerely ask employees to be more positive, for example, when you occasionally spin into a storm of negativity? Instead of an empty promise to change yourself once everything is in place, model your behavior toward the desired future state.
Failing to follow through
Is your organization a victim of “change of the week” syndrome?
Sometimes leaders, in an attempt to make quick change, latch on to the hot new trend; they try to implement something they read in a book or learn about at a conference. In most cases, they jump in without really thinking about how it will work in their organization. In the worst cases, they launch several change initiatives before the first is complete, overloading resources and causing confusion. Employees are left confused and frustrated, and likely to ignore future – and far more important and far better conceived – initiatives.
Squashing conversations about change
Some leaders claim to have an open-door policy, and encourage employees to bring concerns about change initiatives to them. But then they refuse to listen to what their employees say. Instead, they attempt to “set them straight” and explain the rationale for the change without seeing the problems.
As a result, efforts are often thwarted, or lack support – and potential change champions become cautious, or even skeptical.
Creating a crisis environment
Change often requires extensive work. Far too many leaders, though, implement change efforts without adequately assessing the resources available for change. They set unrealistic deadlines and timelines for change that don’t take into account current workloads, company culture, and the desired result.
Instead of creating change, those leaders create crisis.
Employees who are overwhelmed by self-imposed deadlines while meeting the needs of customers, projects and each other, fear that “one more thing” that causes stress. Avoid crisis mode, and keep your team motivated and morale high.
Failing to incorporate existing company culture
Research indicates that many change initiatives fail because the organizational culture is not adequately considered. While heading toward where they want to go, leaders fail to build a bridge from where they are now – a virtual guarantee of failure.
At every turn, build your existing culture, people and process into your change strategy. Demonstrate a clear “from and to” plan. And measure results based on how successful each component of that plan becomes.
Organizational change is challenging, especially for the leader who doesn’t address his or her own role in the process. By becoming aware of your own behavior – and changing yourself first – you’ll help ensure the success of your change efforts.