Three key factors—How much change? What’s the desired result? How crucial is it to succeed?—help determine a change initiative’s Degree of Difficulty. Let’s look at these in detail.
DETERMINING HOW MUCH CHANGE IS EXPECTED
Projects of a continuous improvement nature (dealing with incremental change) have an important place within organizations. Without Six Sigma and other such methodologies to keep a constant vigilance on quality enhancement opportunities, organizations would never harvest the full potential from their processes and procedures.
Transformational change, on the other hand, dramatically alters the course of current actions. These projects aren’t designed to refine what is already in place. (Note: The introduction of continuous improvement techniques to an organization may be a transformational change in itself, but once the new mechanics and thought processes are fully embedded, its use is to foster continuous, not transformational, change.)
Incremental change characteristics:
- A focus on methods, systems, and behaviors
- A clear and single direction
- Improving the familiar
- Relatively stable execution
- Few changes and/or affecting a small span of the people
- Minor disruption to people’s expectations
- The path forward is linear (logical extension of and improvement upon what is still generally working)
- Minimized mistakes
- A minimal impact on political terrain
- People are not expected to examine who they are, what they value, or undertake any personal development beyond the tactical request of the incremental change
- A small number of people are unwilling and/or unable to do what is asked of them
In contrast, here is a list of transformational change characteristics:
- A focus that also includes behaviors but extends to beliefs and underlying assumptions as well
- No single right answer…part of the challenge is to determine from the many possibilities which one (or which combination) is the best fit for the task at hand
- Exploring and pursuing unusual and creative alternatives
- Executing the change even though it causes ongoing disequilibrium for everyone involved
- Many changes and/or affecting all or most of the people
- Major disruption to people’s expectations (perceived either positively or negatively)
- The path forward has many interdependent components (requires a high tolerance for ambiguity and paradox)
- People rely on learning from mistakes
- People can only succeed by examining who they are, what they value, and how they can develop knowledge and skill they didn’t previously posses
- Significant impact on the political terrain (new players, power shifts, etc.)
- A sizeable number of people are unwilling and/or unable to complete the journey
Transformational projects are inherently more difficult to orchestrate than those with incremental improvement objectives.
HOW TO DETERMINE AN INITIATIVE’S DESIRED RESULTS
Unless a project ends in an outright meltdown, there are two basic outcomes from a change:
- Installation—putting something new in place
- Realization—achieving the true purpose of the endeavor
Organizations generally do a relatively good job of figuring out how to solve their problems or exploit their opportunities. Unfortunately, the majority don’t implement these solutions very well. They plan the proper courses of action for the circumstances, but actually fulfilling their ambitions is often beyond their reach.
The problem is, these organizations unwittingly apply their resources toward installing new solutions rather than realizing the anticipated benefits.
Installation occurs when an important change (merger, reorganization, updated processes, etc.) is introduced to the organization. The sequence of events may include announcing the endeavor, restructuring and reassigning responsibilities, providing new equipment or software, training, or a host of other related activities.
Realization is achieved when the organization goes beyond just deploying the change and reaps the full business benefits that were anticipated when the resources were allocated to pursue the initiative (for example, a 10% increase in productivity, or a 15% decrease in customer complaints).
The problem is seldom that the change just doesn’t happen; the more common situation is that it is only partially implemented or never really used as intended. This can happen for a number of reasons—failure to understand the true intent and scope of the effort, mixed signals from management about its importance, resistance from those being affected, competition for time and attention from too many other changes, and so on. Regardless of why, though, organizations that do no more than install major change almost never create the support and acceptance needed to produce the hoped for results.
Realization of the full intent of critical change is the only way to truly accomplish dramatic leaps in ROI.
DETERMINING HOW CRUCIAL AN INITIATIVE REALLY IS
Good ideas can be very seductive.
Organizations seldom pursue major business solution initiatives that are not in some way intellectually sound and supported by a strong business case. Sponsors who get infatuated with too many good ideas, however, start off ”all psyched up” but then don’t do what’s necessary to ensure the project’s success. These good ideas look reasonable on the surface, but each one requires a certain amount of attention and resources to accomplish. At some point, assets are exhausted and those good ideas fall by the wayside.
The commitment to business imperative initiatives is very different. There may be a “sound reason” for following through on a good idea, but a business imperative means the price for not resolving the problem or not taking advantage of the opportunities at hand is prohibitively high. This is when you’ll hear executives say, “This project will not fail on my watch” and mean it.
The resolve needed to face whatever challenges are involved and pay whatever price is incurred in a business imperative change is much greater than that needed for “good ideas.” This amount of dedication, however, also brings greater degrees of difficulty. Sponsor commitment at this level is always more intricate, complex, and demanding.
Steadfast resolution can sustain people during the inherent hardships that will be encountered. But it is also important to understand that this kind of commitment increases the demand on energy and resources. If they are to reach the promised results, leaders responsible for important change initiatives in crisis should respond with a heightened sense of involvement and a strong resolve to apply extraordinary effort and resources. Let’s face it, it is easier to be half-hearted about something than to put your full self into it.
Let’s loop back to the issue of our credibility with sponsors. As practitioners, we must be seen as in service to, and closely aligned with, sponsors. If not, our ability to influence a project’s outcome is severely hampered, if not eliminated altogether. This means we must be judicious when recommending that sponsors employ serious implementation facilitation.
At Conner Partners, we take a neutral position about whether special implementation efforts are applied to a particular project until after the sponsor and other key players conduct a Degree of Difficulty assessment and discuss the results.