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Turn Change Upside Down to Manage It Effectively

14th October 2015 | Warren Parry

Strong Leadership, Good Systems and Processes, Clear Vision and Passion are the Keys to Successful Organizational Change

Big Change, Best Path (9780749469429)Many executives believe organizational change is an inherently messy, chaotic process. Without a doubt, change can derail business. That’s because leaders have thus far been managing it using faulty assumptions and outdated mental models. It’s time to turn that world of organizational change upside down and give the workforce of the future the insights needed to effectively manage and embrace change.

For the past 15 years, we have studied 250 major change initiatives at more than 150 organizations, including dozens of Fortune Global 500 corporations. Altogether, we have now collected data from more than 850,000 employees, from front-line staffers through leadership at all levels, including team managers, divisional heads, and corporate executives. The resulting analysis of that dataset — representing the cumulative wisdom of experienced change travelers — can help organizations become more “change smart.”

Over the years, many organizations have implemented specific initiatives in order to make employees “change smart” before embarking on change. Even though such efforts are generally well-intentioned, they are often misguided, having little direct impact on the business outcomes the organization wants to achieve.

“Change smart” doesn’t necessarily mean rolling out stock standard solutions such as more communication, increased employee training, better team leadership, and improved accountability. These might be the favorite “go to” items on many organizations’ change agendas, but they are not the most critical drivers of successful change. Our research has shown that, although important, those factors play only relatively minor roles in the success of change programs. When it comes to improving business performance, the most critical drivers are strong business leadership, good systems and processes, clear vision and direction, and high passion and drive. Our research also clearly shows that different combinations of those drivers are needed to attain different organizational outcomes. Manage these well and you dramatically increase the odds of achieving improvements in business performance.

The challenge, though, is that many important factors like leadership and people’s emotions are intangible and difficult to measure. And that’s one of the reasons why many organizations tend to focus on more tangible areas like communication and employee training, which are relatively easy to measure and manage. In the future, though, sophisticated analytics and new digital approaches will help organizations bridge that gap. For example, automated text analyses of written survey responses, comments from a workshop, social media posts, and other sources will enable managers to determine the psychological state of employees on a team. Using such systems, businesses will be able to better identify and address potential issues before they become major problems. Armed with this kind of insight, “change smart” managers can take specific effective actions, efficiently utilizing precious resources only when and where they are needed.

About the author: Warren Parry is managing director, Accenture Strategy, Talent & Organization. With over 20 years of experience, he has lodged 16 patents, has published in international journals and speaks regularly at industry conferences. He is based in Sydney, Australia.

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HR, Organizational Development & Coaching

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