Organizational Change Can Be Successful
If you’ve been following along with each installment of this blog article on change, your change effort has created urgency, put in place the appropriate guiding teams, and has a vision that has been communicated to the masses so that they too are on-board. We now move into step 5 of Kotter’s change process that provides the necessary guidance to enable those involved within the change to take action. This is where the success of your previous steps in the process are put to the test. If you have skipped or not attained success in steps 1 – 4, action will not be possible.
Step 5 – Enable Action
In this step of the change process, we’ll focus on the important step of removing roadblocks to change.
In highly successful change efforts, when people begin to understand and act on a change vision, you [the leader] remove barriers in their path (Cohen & Kotter, 2005, p. 117). Your actions during this step will enable a large base of people to take action by eradicating anything that may be an impediment to making the change vision a reality. It is likely that your change initiative will run into roadblocks based upon your organizational structure, lack of skills by those implementing the change or affected by the change, organizational systems/processes, and resistant leaders. The following tips may be helpful as you consider ways to remove these barriers for your change teams:
Organizational structure barriers
These types of barriers usually present themselves in the form of functional silos that do not communicate well and have different priorities. Work to create a structure that supports the change vision and drives responsibilities, resources, and information that support the effort. Equally important is to clarify priorities for people who are working on the change but have limited time due to other responsibilities within the organization.
Lack of skill barriers
With any change, new skills must be learned so that the beneficial effects of the change can be long lasting. A lack of required skills can slow or even stall the required actions for change. The most critical action during this phase of your change process is to provide training. Be sure to ask your employees that are impacted by the change what training they believe they need to be successful in the new world. Before the change is finalized, consider testing new skill levels in a pilot environment.
Organizational system and process barriers
Carefully consider if your current systems or processes are going to be barriers to the success of the change. If your processes penalize people for making mistakes, promotes people based upon loyalty to individuals, or systems reward are doled out based upon behaviors that are no longer important – you have some barriers to deal with. These may be the most difficult barriers you will face as the ability to remove them may take time. Be sure performance reviews include commitment to the change vision, promotions are based upon contributions to the organization and adoption of the change vision, and ensure that succession plans promote employees who support the change vision.
Resistant change leader barriers
This is the roadblock that has the ability to inflict the most damage on your change initiative. Micromanaging the group’s activities, undermining the credibility of those driving the change, and controlling all decision making truly makes your change team feel marginalized. Once this happens, these members who have been heralding change since the urgency phase, have become cynical and more importantly, less interested in seeing the change happen. In most cases, the “boss” barrier is dealt with in one of three ways: we ignore them, we train/re-train them, or we remove them. None of these options are ideal situations (Kotter, 2002, p. 102). When a change leader becomes a block, you truly only have one option and that is to confront those leaders about the importance of their sponsorship of the change. Always deal with people in a fair, straightforward, and timely manner (Cohen, 2005, p. 122).
Utilizing these tips can help ensure that your employees are able to turn your organization’s vision of change into a reality. The road to action can be a long one and it’s easy to lose supporters along the way so in our next blog installment of Kotter’s sixth step in the change process we’ll discuss how short-term wins can keep supporters positive and just maybe, convert some cynics along the way.
Cohen, D. (2005). The heart of change field guide. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Kotter, J., & Cohen, D. (2002). The heart of change: Real-life stories of how people change their organizations. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.