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  • Scott McInnes

#14 | Successful change - it’s all about the human (Part 1)

graphic of people standing talking with coloured speaking boxes

Back in 2008 IBM conducted a piece of research, looking at 1500 organisations to identify what were the most important factors in successful change programmes (and by 'successful' they considered projects that reaped at least 75% of the benefits they anticipated at the beginning of the change). They updated that survey with a sample of 1400 companies in 2016, and little had changed.

What their study found was that successful change wasn't predicated on what they termed ‘hard factors’ (pay, training, team skills or project management).

Instead, those companies who'd successfully implemented change found that it was what IBM termed 'soft factors' (or as this author prefers to call them human (God forbid!) factors!) that made the difference between failure and success.

Top of their list (83% agreed) was Top management sponsorship - not just management, TOP management. People want to know that the path their organisation is taking is backed 100% by the senior team. A Senior exec recently asked me "Do you think people really care about the term top team, ExCo or whatever an organisation calls its top execs?". My almost immediate response was 'YES, everyone in an organisation wants to know that there's a capable team leading the organisation and that that team is 100% behind what the organisation needs to do to get to where it needs to be - to achieve it's vision". It doesn't matter if you're a bank, a university, McLaren F1 or the All Blacks - everyone wants to know they're heading in the same direction and that, importantly, it's the right direction.

Solution - Get the Senior team out talking to staff at townhalls, in skip levels, during walkabouts and Q&As; and support that with ongoing communications where they talk about he impact of the change from their perspective.

And that supported number two, with 64% stating that success in change was based on having A shared vision. I wrote about this a while ago in a post about purpose. Having that shared vision is critical to success in any organisation, not just during change. A shared vision gets everyone pointing in the same direction, gives your people a shared sense of purpose and, with the help of line managers and a healthy dose of storytelling, helps them to see how what they do every day is critical to achieving that success.

Solution - Change is often driven by necessity, but sharing why you need to do it and your vision for what it will deliver is key. Even better is involving staff in the creation of that vision so it's seen as belonging to everyone, not just the Exec, CEO or the Board.

Third, and much harder to achieve, with 57% of respondents agreeing, was Corporate culture that motivates and promotes change - it's really easy to say (or in my case, type) but it's VERY hard to create. Culture is what makes or breaks an organisation. It's like an elastic band - it'll stretch as you're going through the process of a change programme but, if that programme doesn't involve the people, doesn't get their buy-in then, when the 'process' is done, the elastic band of culture contracts and it's as can appear as though has changed.

Solution - Culture in organisations doesn't change overnight - it's something that has to be nurtured over time. a strong set of values is key - the 'how we do things around here'. But to have them isn't enough - organisations need to be able to bring those values to life through strong, open, engaging and authentic leaders that truly believe in living those values. THEY need to promote a culture of change, not a culture of Status Quo and they need to recognise (a pat on the back or a public thank you is often enough) when members of their team live those values, push the boundaries and make change happen. And then is needs to be spread through the organisation - showing people what living your values looks like, what challenging the status quo looks like and the impact that has on the individual and the organisation.

I'll touch on the other four of those top seven next week but, in the meantime, if you want to read the full findings from IBM's research you can click here.

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