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(originally published by Booz & Company)

Organizations & People: The Essentials from Booz & Company

Making Change Happen, and Making It Stick

If you are asking people to adapt to a new reality, they need to understand the emotional case for the change so they can feel truly committed to the transformation. It can’t be presented as another “program of the month” that they will have to live through. Bringing the details of what will change — and what won’t — into the presentation allows leaders to paint a vivid picture of what the change means for employees personally, not only why it benefits the business.

3. Ensure that the entire leadership team is a role model for the change. Companies start their transformations from the top. Senior executives must be not only “on top” of the change program, but also “in front” of it, modeling the new behaviors they are asking their people to adopt and holding one another accountable for the initiative’s success. When executives talk about creating a performance culture, they must demonstrate through example what that means.

An aligned and committed leadership team is the foundation for any major corporate undertaking. When executives lead by example, the impact can be profound. One senior director found that it was only after he introduced ongoing performance discussions with his direct reports that his team started to hold similar sessions with their own direct reports. This requires consistent attention, but that level of engagement will make the difference between success and failure.

4. Mobilize your people to “own” and accelerate the change. The blunt truth is that most change initiatives are done “to” employees, not implemented “with” them or “by” them. Although executives are pushing behavior change from the top and expecting it to cascade through the formal structure, an informal culture left to instinct and chance will likely dig in its heels.

To counteract this undermining force, companies should leverage what Booz & Company Senior Partner Jon Katzenbach calls the informal organization — the network of peer-to-peer interactions. People need to be encouraged and motivated to change their behavior by those around them as much as they need incentives from the top.

This does not mean that companies should forgo a centrally driven program with a clear road map that lays out the formal elements of the new organization. But they must not overlook the informal organization either. Pride, commitment, and purpose reside here. If you use powerful emotional motivators, invite employees to contribute ideas and perspectives, and provide the kind of informal support and recognition that makes it easier to take ownership of new behaviors, you can accelerate and intensify the impact of the change initiative.

5. Embed the change in the fabric of the organization. Sponsors often declare victory too soon, diverting leadership, commitment, and focus from the ongoing effort. To embed the change and ensure that it sticks, you should acknowledge the lessons learned. You also should investigate how to engage and involve employees over the long term and how to institutionalize best practices to capture the full benefit of this change and any future changes.

The human resources function plays a critical role in this process. To enable lasting change, all HR systems, structures, processes, and incentives must be aligned and consistent with the goals of the transformation. You need to articulate clearly the various people-oriented elements of the future organization — not just its structure, but also employee value propositions and individual and team roles, as well as required competencies, skills, and behaviors. Things like performance management, learning and development, workforce strategy, and retention programs are key enablers of the change program.

The challenge is to rethink not only how HR can help people support the change but also how it can contribute to embedding and sustaining the change. This requires HR to understand the business and its long-term requirements as both a strategic partner and a change agent.

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