Have you ever been part of an organizational change that didn’t stick? What about one that didn’t yield the results everyone expected? OR Have you ever been asked to lead an organizational change and been frustrated that you couldn’t get people to buy in or fully change their behavior?

If you answered yes to any one of these questions, you are not alone. Consider this example:

The company decides it needs a new CRM system to promote better communication between sales and other customer facing functions. The company also believes a new CRM will provide better data on lead conversions, pipeline management, and customer engagement/contact. IT and Marketing spend months selecting the right system, customizing it for the company’s data needs, and ensuring integrations with other systems are mapped effectively. When the new CRM system is ready to launch, the sales and customer facing teams are invited to training, and the system goes live immediately following. In a progress check four months later – only a handful of power users are leveraging the system daily, about 60% of the intended users are accessing it weekly but not using all the features, and 20% have barely touched it. Communication challenges are still occurring. There are significant holes in the information needed to gauge pipeline management and customer engagement. And the ROI on the financial and time investments in the system are being questioned.

While this is a dramatic example, it’s not as uncommon as you might think. And it is not always a systems implementation. We’ve seen comparable results with transitions in programs, workflows, or policies, and regardless of whether it is a “significant” firmwide change versus a change within one team.

Creating change that sticks AND achieves the desired outcomes can be a challenge. Why? Because change is all about people. As leaders, we must realize that organizations don’t change – people do! The organization only achieves its desired outcomes if the individuals within the organization change.

Think about it – if you implement a new performance development or coaching program – people make it happen. If you implement a new CRM system or any new software platform, people make it happen. If you deliver training around a new policy or process – the change only occurs if people act on that training and make it happen. So, the secret to unlocking change results lies in understanding how to set the people side of change up for success, which is where the research comes in.

Through its 22 years of research on change and change management, Prosci Inc. has identified seven top contributors to change success1. To dramatically improve your odds of achieving the targeted business outcomes of a change, consider these seven areas at the outset of a change initiative and throughout.

  1. Active & Visible Executive Sponsorship – In Prosci’s research, the #1 contributor to change success is effective leadership and sponsorship for the change. An effective leader of change takes ownership, is visible and active throughout the entire change, communicates consistently, and builds support within the organization for the change.
  2. A Structured Approach to Change – In planning for a change or transition, taking a structured and intentional approach can improve the likelihood of getting desired results by six times! A structured approach includes aligning on the vision, clearly understanding how impacted employees will need to do their jobs differently to achieve that vision, and developing strategies to prepare, equip, and support people in making the changes you are asking of them.
  3. Frequent & Open Communication – Communication around any change is critical. It helps answer employee questions from their perspective such as Why are we changing? Why now? What if we don’t change? And What’s in it for me? When done effectively, communication helps people before, during, and after a change to truly embrace what is being asked of them and do it.
  4. Employee Engagement and Participation – In every research study Prosci has conducted since 1998, employee engagement and participation has been a top contributor to success. If we want employees to change behavior or show up differently, it’s important to consider who we are asking to make changes, what’s in it for them, and how we best support them in making those changes. It’s also important to get them involved by asking for input or feedback, ‘sensing’ where they are, and measuring progress.
  5. Dedicated Change Management Resources – This top contributor is all about commitment. If leadership desires to make a change or significant transition, dedicated resources for making that change are a must. These include identifying someone to take the lead role on change management for focus and accountability. It also includes considering and committing to the other needed resources to affect the change (e.g., training, coaching, consulting, budget $, etc.)
  6. Engagement and Integration with Project Management – There are two sides to successful change – project management (PM) and change management (CM). The first best practice is to realize they are not the same thing. PM is designing, developing, and delivering the solution. CM is engaging the hearts and minds of impacted individuals to embrace, adopt, and use the solution. The second best practice is to ensure that both sides are considered and well integrated throughout the project, regardless of whether these roles are fulfilled by a team on each side, two separate individuals, or one person with two hats.
  7. Engagement With and Support From Managers – While leaders are looked to for championing the change, managers or supervisors are the people that employees look to for answers. Thus, regardless of the change you are making, you must equip managers with the information and resources they need to support any change you are asking of the team members they manage. Moreover, Managers are employees too. In equipping them, you must first think about how to support them on their own change journeys as a part of the overall process.

As noted above, considering these top contributors in advance is ideal so your project or initiative is set up for success. However, we have also used them in our change management consulting with clients to
“audit” current projects to see what they are doing well and what might be getting in the way or holding them back.

In changes large or small – implementing a new process, executing organizational structure changes, applying new service models, adopting a policy or program, shifting your culture, or transitioning to a new/different software system – there is a required investment of time, money, and resources to achieve project objectives and desired outcomes. Why not take advantage of the research to maximize your return? Building a discipline to apply these seven proven strategies will help you achieve your best change results on a more consistent basis.

Would you like to have a conversation with your leadership team about a specific change on which you are working or would you like to have a thought provoking tool to apply these seven strategies to one of your projects? Download a Leadership Thinking and Discussion Tool and a copy of this article to share with your team.