Most benefits are realized many months after a change is made, and yet few, if any, resources are invested during this time to realize them. Often, organizations believe the projected benefits will materialize over time after a short period of post-change monitoring. If no major issues arise, success is declared, future benefits are assumed, and the implementation team is disbanded.
The reality is that people need more time to master difficult, uncomfortable, and untested new ways of working that create productivity gains. As people try out new practices they compare them to the old ones they know well. A tension between the two creates a barrier to change because, as James Belasco and Ralph Stayer have observed, “People overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”
Without ongoing support mechanisms, many people choose personal preferences over leadership mandates. They revert to old routines and behaviours, forfeiting benefits tied to the new ones. Old and new practices clash as people try to do their work. This leads to confusion, frustration, sub-optimal decisions and results. Without ongoing reinforcement and measurement, it can take many months before leaders discover the change wasn't adopted and benefits were lost.
Ideally, implementation resources would be retained to support embedding the change into day-to-day operations and track its benefits. For most organizations, this is a luxury they can't afford. Resources are limited and other change initiatives need to be implemented.
So how do you sustain a change and realize its benefits without ongoing change support? The implementation team must achieve two objectives: establish mechanisms to support the change and transfer accountability for them to people who operate the business. Here is a list of activities to do so:
- Ensure a leadership team member (ideally the one most affected by the change) is accountable for updating their peers on barriers to adoption, progress made, and benefits gained
- Identify a business owner for every process impacted by the change
- Appoint someone to measure benefits realized across the business
- Document early wins (including verbatim testimonials from employees)
- Confirm that the leadership team has scheduled time on their regular meeting agendas for updates over the next nine to twelve months
- Identify where remedial training is needed and who will deliver it
- Remove access to old ways of working so they can’t be used, e.g. databases, templates, and systems
- Establish a benefit tracking process including metrics and data sources
- Ensure new behaviours and actions are incorporated into HR systems – performance management, talent assessment, leadership development, and new employee orientation
- Involve people in lessons learned exercises to keep practices top-of-mind
- Establish forums, chaired by process owners, where people can share challenges and recommended improvements
- Coordinate early adopters to help peers overcome difficulties with new operating procedures
- Profile leaders who are following the new ways of working
- Publicly acknowledge people who are gaining benefits from the new practices
- Include new role requirements and demonstration of new behaviours in annual goals
- Develop a communication plan to update leaders and employees (e.g. town hall meeting, news blasts, newsletter columns, etc.)
- Share stories of how people are incorporating new actions and behaviours into their day-to-day tasks (include pictures of them in their work environments)
- Communicate results (good and bad) with the leadership team followed by all employees
The degree of change adoption directly influences the benefits gained from it. Most organizations can’t afford to dedicate resources to ongoing change implementation support. The next best approach is to create mechanisms that encourage adoption of new practices and assign accountability to business operators for maintaining them. This will increase the likelihood that new ways of working will stick and benefits will be realized. Doing so will also build change management capability through the organization, which is a benefit in itself.