In every change program, there comes a point where people say “Thank God, that’s done!” Hands are shaken, champagne corks are popped, and people look forward to closing up project mode, and getting on with ‘business as usual’. But time and time again, the hanging up of the change boots happens altogether prematurely. All that energy and enthusiasm for change, all that optimism that this time…THIS time, we will make a difference, and the change will stick…. amounts to nothing.
Hands are shaken, champagne corks are popped, and people look forward to closing up project mode, and getting on with ‘business as usual’. But time and time again, the hanging up of the change boots happens altogether prematurely. All that energy and enthusiasm for change, all that optimism that this time…THIS time, we will make a difference, and the change will stick…. amounts to nothing.
Things are harder, they take longer, and the benefits you hoped to realise simply aren’t happening. At this point in the change cycle, it’s a bit like living near a volcano that could erupt but never does. You can hear the rumblings, you can feel the vibrations, people are nervous – but eventually they get used to it and (eek) they go on with their normal lives. It’s almost as if nothing ever happened. Frustrating? Hell yes! Time and time again we hear from frustrated change champions; “We did the diagnostics, we set up action groups and we changed the structure – but our engagement scores came back and… nothing much has moved.”
This is all too common – and the sad thing is that people usually notice when it’s too late. So, what if I told you that there are a bunch of early indicators to watch out for? By looking for these sign posts (that usually appear early on) you’ll know that something has gone pear-shaped, and that the change you worked so hard to achieve might be about to come “unstuck”.
The early indicators that your change isn’t sticking:
1) Feeling frustration: The change leaders ‘feel’ that people ‘don’t get it’ or ‘aren’t getting it fast enough’. The leaders are of course ahead of the curve, their thinking is already in implementation – they have transitioned to the new world… but the rest of the team are behind them. Naturally, frustration builds and leaders let it show.
2) Making excuses: An increased excuses, being made to explain why the changes don’t apply in this circumstance. This can come from any level of the organisation, including from your customers. This means that the change process is hitting up against ‘organisational immunity’ and at any moment you could expect to see the system adjust in a way to subtly keep things the way they were.
3) Misaligned focus: A focus on seemingly irrelevant details is a tell-tale sign that people are confused about what to do, and more precisely about why they should do it. Not forgetting, the bit that most often gets missed… HOW does all of this link together? At this point, people don’t know how to make decisions in their everyday work-life that align, because they cannot see the links between the change, the strategy, their leaders directions, the values and their customers’ needs. Where this is not overt…confusion reigns. (Confusion is not always a bad thing. However, you do need to provide structures to support people as they move through it. More on that later…)
4) Stalled decision making: People are pushing decisions up the chain rather than making them and getting on with the job at hand. Increased requests for direction from senior leaders clearly indicates that people have not been able to find processes that support the required behavioural shift. Rules, systems or norms from the “olden days” are now in clash with the request for change. Pushing up indicates fear of getting things wrong, lack of clarity around HOW to change supporting structures, or lack of clarity from leaders about their expectations.
5) Increased resistance: When resistance comes from unexpected factions, you will find the unexpressed needs of the broader system popping up somewhere else, too. This is really interesting and a key moment during change. This is the moment when you’ll know whether you’ll be able to make the change stick…or drop back into old patterns. It’s important to remember that the people voicing concern, at this stage, are providing a great service. It means they are identifying the hidden blockers of change for you. Look a little deeper, underneath what they are saying, and you will see a pattern – “the story underneath the words”. Tap into it, and you’ll be able to push through.
6) Reduced ‘real’ talk: The dialogue becomes stilted; people start being more careful about expressing their opinions, and avoid behaviours that might draw attention. When people look around before speaking, or say “others think…but not me, of course” they are distancing themselves from the change and the process. Why? This is a crucial moment – get curious.
7) Name-shame: The change program’s inspiring name morphs into a euphemism for pain. Remember, those times you’ve seen this before? Political campaigns often bear this brunt. Like when the “building our future” program becomes code for “that awful time of unrest and pain we won’t speak about,” *rolls eyes*. This shows that the change was interpreted as a “program” which would end, or a series of events – rather than embedded as a core shift in how we do business.
8) What was the point? If you are hearing this phrase, people are wondering why all that activity and change seems to have amounted to a business as usual, with a fresh coat of paint. The good new is, this shows people were invested. They had pinned all their hopes on the change, and were bound to be disappointed when the program didn’t deliver
So why didn’t the change stick, and what can you do about it?
Step one – Know the early indicators. Share them with key change leads early on; explain that you expect them to pop up.
Step two – Agree on how you’ll keep focus on these areas, measure them and discuss them
Step three – Set up forums with the change leads to track these patterns.
Step four – Inquire deeply … What is happening underneath?
Step five – Don’t lose heart… these indicators are early warnings signs, tap into them now and you can be sure to avoid change failure.
Stay posted for our blog post with the key tips you need to know to avoid change failure; coming soon.
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Who is the Coherence Group? Three time award winners for our work in culture transformation and change, Coherence Group supports organisations like yours to improve employee satisfaction and engagement, stakeholder management, productivity, leadership, team dynamics and organisational culture. Our stellar track record is clearly linked to our staunch commitment to the key principle of ‘leader led and owned culture change’, supported by ‘culture coaches’.