Organizational Change Can Be Successful
Fresh off a successful implementation of the sixth step in Kotter’s process, you’ve now seen tangible signs of change in the form of short-term wins. These wins, if selected properly and conveyed to the entire organization, bring great joy to your implementation teams that have been working long and hard to make the change vision a reality. There may be no better time in your change effort than now – you’ve shown success, the team feels rewarded, and cynics are dropping like flies. However, in Kotter’s seventh step we’ll examine why you should be concerned – you’re now entering into the time where most projects fail.
Step 7 – Don’t let up
In Kotter’s seventh step – don’t let up – we look at how to keep the momentum established with your short-term wins in the previous step moving the project the forward. We’ve demonstrated, through some well chosen short-term wins, progress that reaffirms the vision and positively influences the naysayers. Those implementing the win are also excited to see that their work has meant something. However, we also need to consider why many projects prematurely end during this time and what you can do about it to ensure your project stays on track.
What could go wrong?
The short-term wins have brought great promise to your change vision. However, for those involved, the completion of the wins may have become the end goal. In many organizations, those working on your change effort have a full-time job they were already working on prior to this new project. For them, seeing the completion of the short-term win, is a time to address all the work that has piled up while committed to the change effort. Change leaders find themselves in the same situation, moving to address new challenges that face the organization. Without careful planning, your organizational change effort can find itself stalled as those celebrating the short-term wins quickly lose focus.
Authors Cohen and Kotter remind us that “In successful situations, people build on this [short-term win] momentum to make a vision a reality by keeping urgency up and a feeling of false pride down” (Cohen & Kotter, 2002, p. 163). Consider these tips to ensure you find yourself in one of Kotter’s “successful situations”:
• Leverage the momentum and credibility gained from the short-term wins to learn what’s working and move on to bigger parts of the change
• Ensure the change is reaching all levels in the organization and seek feedback on its effectiveness. Organizational challenges are bound to follow as multiple projects with staff from different parts of the company get underway. Leaders need to provide guidance so that teams can make decisions that are consistent with the vision as multiple change initiatives are coordinated. Conflicts around priorities for employees must be managed by the managers, not left to the employee.
• Sustain the involvement and support of leaders. It is critical during this stage that leaders consistently support and communicate, constantly reinforcing the vision of the change. Lost excitement at this level, quickly trickles down to the managers and employees. If the change is no longer at the forefront for leaders, why should it be for them? Most importantly, lead by example and remain intensely involved in the change effort.
• Getting the right people to maintain momentum of the change. This is a time to review the people on your teams, deciding on who is/is not moving the change forward. Those who are not should be replaced with new members. You’ll also need to find ways to energize your exhausted change leaders.
Although “don’t let up” sounds incredibly simple, it’s during this time when most organizations fail to implement long term change because they declare victory too soon. Take a brief moment to celebrate success, but then quickly began planning your next set of short term wins. Take a lesson from Louis, the leader of the penguins in the book entitled Our Iceberg is Melting, who held a Heroes Day for the first wave of his returning scouts. That same day, he send out a second wave of scouts in an effort to keep the pressure on and to ensure they were not letting up on change (Kotter & Rathgeber, 2005, p. 110).
In the next and final article in this series, we’ll talk about how to make your change long lasting. As we know, making any kind of change stick is difficult in any sphere of life. Consider the dwindling number of people who continue going to the gym long past when they made a decision to change on January 1st. In Kotter’s last step in the change process – we’ll cover ways to ensure your change sticks.
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.
Kotter, J. & Rathgeber, H. (2005). Our iceberg is melting. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.