Unless you’ve been living on another planet, the past few years have shown that we’re in a time of unimagined, unrelenting, and ever-increasing change. And we’re not very good at it. This book can help.
You’ll be able to use the understanding, tools, and approaches outlined throughout this book to guide your people through change in a way that builds their understanding and buy-in and supports their success. At the same time you’ll be able to focus clearly on the nuts-and-bolts steps necessary to execute any major transformation—making organizational change less disruptive and more beneficial for your employees and your business as well as for those who look to your business for products and services.
In other words, this book can help you, your people, and your organization become more change-capable—better able to make the changes facing you now and to continue making the necessary changes in response to our ever-changing world. Let’s get started.
The Five-Step Change Model
STEP 1: Clarify the Change and Why It’s Needed
In this first step the leaders of the change begin to answer the question, What’s the change and why should we make it?
This step of the change model has three goals: to surface and frame the change; to clarify the risks and rewards of changing; and to make a compelling case for the change.
Surface and frame the change. The initial owners of Step 1 are generally the leadership group: those who have to agree upon and set the organization up for the change. It’s essential that the leaders get on the same page about what the change is (“We need to . . . ”)—or at least, initially, the challenge that needs to be addressed through change (“How can we . . . ?”). That’s what we mean by “surfacing and framing the change.” Getting clarity and agreement about the “shape” of the change in this way is foundational to everything that follows.
Clarify the risks and rewards of changing. Getting clear about the rewards of the change (what will be better as a result of making it) and being equally realistic about the possible risks of changing (the obstacles, the disruptions it may cause, the costs involved) and also the risks of not changing (how staying the same could hurt the business or its employees) helps in three ways. First, it starts to prepare you and others for what will be required to make the change, giving you a good base for planning. It also helps reassure employees, when you start communicating about the change to them, that you’re being balanced in your assessment and not underestimating the challenges or overestimating the rewards.
Make a compelling case for the change. Building from your (hopefully) balanced and accurate assessment of the risks and rewards of the change, you can create the “why” for the change that helps people understand how the change will make their life better and/or keep their life from getting worse. Establishing this kind of clear “why,” one that will be compelling to most of the people in the organization, is key to the success of the change. Remember, human beings are deeply and historically wired toward homeostasis. Providing a compelling rationale for change, especially when that change is going to require lots of effort and new behavior, allows and supports people to start making the individual mindset shift that is the heart of real change.
STEP 2: Envision the Future State
In Step 2 of the five-step change model, the leaders of the change answer the next critical question, What will be different after the change? No surprise: this is also the part of the proposed change element of the change arc.
Think of these first two steps of the model as the nucleus of change: this is the work that those few most responsible for the change—usually the most senior leaders of the group or organization that’s undertaking the change—need to do in order to create a strong foundation for the change. Doing this work upfront helps assure that moving through the rest of the model will yield real change . . . and will build an organization or group that’s better prepared for all the changes to come. The goals of Step 2 are to clarify the scope of this particular change; to create a shared picture of success for the change; and to establish key measures to quantify that success.
Clarify the scope of change. Getting clear at this stage about how broad or narrow the change is helps to avoid all kinds of problems further along. First, it helps the leadership team to understand how much of the organization—the people, processes, and structures—will be affected by the change as well as the impact that might have on the customer and the bottom line.
Create a shared picture of success. A clear sense of the scope—the size and shape—of the change allows leaders to work together to create a shared picture of success for the change.
Establish key measures of success. Next you need to link the envisioned future to day-to-day reality by creating clear ways of quantifying success. Sharing a clear and hopeful (while realistic) picture of the envisioned future state helps people see new possibilities and start to shift their mindset. Being able to quantify that success says, in effect, “and here’s how we’ll know it’s working.” That soothes folks’ fears and helps them start to trust that these new possibilities really could be achieved. This is where the leadership team needs to get very practical in describing the specific benefits they believe the change will yield: cost savings, productivity increases, employee engagement and/or retention, increased market share—essentially making the business case for the change. There is always some guesswork involved here—it’s impossible to know exactly how a major change will unfold—but it’s important for leaders to be as realistic as possible in their planning, both to gain employee buy-in later in the process and to avoid hits to their credibility when their unrealistic expectations don’t pan out.
STEP 3: Build the Change
This third step answers the questions, Who and what will the change require? This is where the movement toward change expands beyond the leadership team, and the change plan is defined.
The four goals of Step 3 are: to create the change team, the core group that will move the change forward from this point; to identify and mobilize the key stakeholders—those who will most need to sponsor and/ or influence the change—within and beyond the change team; to build the change plan, including the needed resources; and, once you know what the change will require, to assess the organization’s readiness for the change.
Create the change team. In selecting the change team, it’s important to pick people who you believe are likely to move through their own change process fairly quickly (or who have already begun to do so if they have been involved in Steps 1 and 2); these folks should also be open and responsive to the idea that others will need time to do the same thing. Sometimes people who have an easy, positive relationship with change are judgmental or impatient with those who don’t. It’s important to select people who are credible and competent in the organization and are seen as being so by others; you want most people in the organization to have a positive, hopeful view of those who are driving the change.
Identify and begin to engage stakeholders. Next, you’ll begin to identify those who will most need to understand and support the change in order for it to be successful. The stakeholders of a change can exist at any level in the organization: think of them as the people whose support can have the biggest positive impact on making the change, and whose nonsupport could most hinder the change.
Build the change plan. Next, you’ll engage the change team (and the stakeholders as appropriate) in the core job of thinking through the work necessary for the change to take place; the mindset and behavioral shifts that will be necessary for the affected individuals to make the change; and how organizational systems and processes, structures, and culture may need to be altered to support the change (and to make the organization more change-capable overall). At the same time, you’ll engage the change team in thinking through how to communicate the change to the whole organization, building on the work you’ve already done in these first three steps of the five-step change model.
Assess readiness for the change. Achieving this goal is the last thing the change team needs to do before they begin taking the change to the rest of the organization. It’s an essential step; assessing readiness gives you a sense of where the organization is starting from—both practically and psychologically—in beginning to make this change. You need to look at leaders, individuals, and the organization relative to the proposed change: How ready (or unready) are the leaders to lead this change? Do the affected individuals have the skills they will need to do the new behaviors required, or can they acquire them reasonably easily—and will they be open to doing those new behaviors (that is, are their mindsets shiftable)? Are the organization’s systems and structures supportive of the change? If not, how difficult will it be to change those that aren’t? Is the culture supportive of change in general and of this one in particular? Again, if not, how difficult will it be to shift the culture in necessary ways?
STEP 4: Lead the Transition
This is where the change begins to happen, where all the rest of those affected are supported through their change arc: proposed change, mind-set shift, and—the place where it all becomes real—new behaviors. This fourth step answers the question, How will we ensure people transition successfully?—that is, how will we make sure as many people as possible move through their change arc so they’re willing and able to make the change?
The goals during Step 4 are to identify those most affected; to clarify endings and beginnings for those most affected; to plan to accelerate people’s transition; and to execute the change and transition plans you’ve created, making the change as smooth as possible for everyone in the organization.
Identify those most affected. You will have already been thinking about who will be most affected by the change in Step 2, as you’ve thought through what the change will look like, and in Step 3, as you’ve identified the key stakeholders. In Step 4 you’ll expand on that understanding to make sure that you’re thinking broadly enough about the impact of the change.
Clarifying endings and beginnings for those affected. Accomplishing the remaining goals of Step 4 is the core of successful change—the heart of the movement from theory to practice. Once you’re clear on who will be most affected by the change or changes you envision, think through—ideally with those affected—what specifically will be changing for them.
Plan to accelerate the transition. Having clarified the key endings and beginnings for those most impacted by the change, you and the change team can create a transition plan focused on them and their leaders, which will help everyone move as quickly as possible through their own change arcs, by using what you’ve understood about their endings and beginnings to support both their mindset shift and their movement to the new behaviors required. The change team will work to align the transition plan with the change plan, so that the practical efforts for implementing the change are fully synced up with the efforts to help people move through their individual change arc.
Execute the change and transition plans. This is the point where all your foundation-building comes to fruition: you and the change team make the change as planned, while at the same time implementing the transition plan to support and accelerate people’s understanding and acceptance of the change.
STEP 5: Keep the Change Going
Most of us have had the awful experience of having gone through all the mental, emotional, and physical effort required to make an important change, only to have things slip back to the way they were before. Everyone who has ever quit smoking and started up again; everyone who has ever lost weight and regained it; everyone who has ever started exercising and drifted back to couch potato–hood knows the particular mix of shame, frustration, anger, and hopelessness this cycle can engender.
This final step of the model helps ensure that all your effort in the previous four steps hasn’t been in vain, and that your change will be sustained—and it’s the place where you can really focus on making sure that leaders, individuals, and the organization itself are becoming more change-capable overall. This is where you answer the question How will the change (and change itself) become “business as usual”? In the service of that, the goals of Step 5 are: to monitor and report progress; to institutionalize ongoing adjustments; and to make systems/processes, structures, and culture more change-capable.
Monitor and report progress. Establishing and using simple, effective ways to keep track of progress and share those results helps to assure that the change won’t drift backward due to pure lack of awareness. It helps give you a real-time sense of what’s working and not working, so you can address problems and reinforce successes as quickly as possible. Creating a cadence of monitoring and reporting progress supports making your folks and your organization fundamentally change-capable: once you’re in the habit of doing this around a particular change, and have systems and processes in place to support it, you’ll be much better able to use your existing habit of monitoring and reporting progress to make any change more successful.
Institutionalize ongoing adjustments. Accomplishing this second goal—figuring out how to “bake in” the ongoing adjustments to ensure the change keeps moving in a positive direction—will make your leaders, employees, and the organization itself more likely to reap the maximum benefits from the particular change you’ve made. At the same time, it will help catalyze a permanent mindset shift toward seeing continuous change (even change within a change) as the new normal. When that happens, you, your folks, and your organization are well on the way to becoming truly change-capable.
Make systems/processes, structures, and culture more change-capable. In Step 3 you will have recognized the changes in systems, structure, and culture needed to support the change and incorporated them into your planning. Making those changes will have been part of your work in Step 4, as you implement your change and transition plans. This will help move you toward a permanently change-capable organization: more often than not, the changes you make to systems, structures, and culture to support a specific change will also better support change in general. However, in Step 5 you may realize there are additional changes you need to make to your organization’s systems, structures, or culture that will not only ensure the ongoing success of the particular change you’re completing now, but will make future changes easier to implement.