Why Change Fails

Change is a complicated beast

Change is all around us and yet we find it so hard to do in organisations. Why is this?

We all cope with change personally, all the time; new houses, new relationships, the pandemic, technology – it’s all around us and it is constant. I am going to keep it simple and share the Change Flywheel that I have developed for my leadership programmes and my book. It’s a simplified version of Kotter’s eight steps that many of you may have used, and the Celemi Learning Spiral. I was MD of Celemi UK for 9 years and the framework changed the way I approach everything I do. It’s based on the science of learning (pedagogy) and is absolutely vital in any change programme.

The Change Flywheel, by Ian Windle

The reason most change programmes fail is largely down to NOT taking notice of these nine steps.

Team Planning

STEP 1 - The Why

As Simon Sinek put so eloquently in his TED talk – which now has 55m views! – this is so often understood perfectly by the leadership team, who have spent months discussing why they are launching the new brand, a new product, entering a new market, going after a different customer segment etc.

So, what do they do? They tell everyone in the business WHAT they are going to do, not WHY they are going to do it. And surprise, surprise, people are confused. They start talking amongst themselves, making assumptions and speculating aboutwhy they are doing this, and then of course the answer is made up. As human beings we are wired to come up with a conclusion. So we do, with as much information as we can find, coupled with our assumptions.

Step 2 - The Who

It’s critical to involve the right people from the start. Change works with a group of people from across the organisation, leading it. They lead and being the change agents within their teams. When creating the who, think about who are the informal leaders and influencers in the business, and get them involved in what John Kotter calls “The Guiding Coalition.”

Step 3 - The What

With the Why and the Who sorted, you must create a very clear What. This the practical plan, you are laying out what you are going to do, by when, so that people can feel confident in what will happen.

People Engagement

STEP 4 - Provide The Information

Provide the Information. This second stage of a change programme is the “secret sauce.” Avoid this or do it badly and your change will fail. Provide the Information is key. This starts with the Why, the context for change, get this right and your people will work out the What before you tell them, and the buy-in is secured, but most organisations do this part badly.

Step 5 - Create The Dialogue

It’s not good enough to communicate this in an email or even just present a PowerPoint at an ‘all hands’ meeting. This stage requires proper dialogue, real discussion and only this will lead to the next stage.

Step 6 - The Aha!

You cannot give people your conclusion and hope they agree with you – that’s not how we learn and change. The previous steps done well will allow people to draw their own conclusions and their Aha. When you’ve presented everything well and planned out your change programme perfectly the logic is that the vast majority of people will draw the same conclusion as you – bingo, you have buy-in and understanding.

Business Embedding

STEP 7 - Demonstrate We’re Winning.

Once the change is off and running it is vital to show progress and that can be demonstrated through small wins. People then see the results coming in and do more to push on. A virtuous circle is created.

STEP 8 - Engaging The Business

Engaging the Business. The communication must be constant and regular now. Don’t let up. Use all the comms and media channels at your disposal. Keep people in the loop. When you feel you are over communicating, then you are probably communicating about right.

Step 9 - Embedding The Changes

The changes must now be embedded in the business: in the systems and processes, in the cultural norms (the way you now do things). Think of every which way you can may the changes stick, let everyone know and follow up accountability with the key people to make sure it is landing.

So, there you have it: The Change Flywheel. For further background read chapter five on ‘Challenge the Status Quo’ in my book (The Leadership Map) or get in touch with me. This flywheel is not just for the big organisation-wide changes, use it for the smaller things too. Once you get to grips with it, you won’t need to refer to it, as it will become second nature.

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