Volume 10 | Issue 2 | Year 2007

Change initiatives often start off well, but during the first month after the big kickoff, the momentum can begin to wane, sapping the initiative of its power. A new survey by OnPoint Consulting reveals the steps high-performing leaders take to keep change initiatives on track.

Early on, managers build support for the change by traveling from office to office promoting the initiative and making sure everyone is on board. However, when these change managers return to their day-to-day jobs, employees frequently lose focus and enthusiasm. I call that point the “commitment dip.” It’s where employees’ support for, clarity about, and commitment to change falls off, sometimes dramatically.

In reversing a commitment dip, time is of the essence. In fact, our survey found that if an organization does not take corrective action in the first one to three months, there is little likelihood that the initiative will achieve its objectives

Six Steps Toward Commitment
Our research shows that it is possible to avoid the commitment dip. Here are six key steps that leaders can take to keep employees highly committed and focused:

Be forthright about the change and its impact. Sixty-four percent of the 655 respondents OnPoint surveyed said that open and honest communication from leaders makes change easier, even when they don’t have all the answers. Employees want leaders to be accessible and to engage in what I call “change talk.”

Model behaviors that support the change. If employees perceive that there are two sets of rules and behaviors – one for them and one for senior leaders – the change initiative will lose credibility. It is not enough to just say the right thing or even enthusiastically communicate the benefits and the business case for the change. Employees want to see those words backed up with behavior.

Be realistic about milestones and resources. Reaching realistic goals makes team members more positive about the change initiative. Keep in mind that employees have regular jobs aside from the work they’ll do to make the change a success, and ensure they have the resources they need to do both jobs well. Eighty-two percent of the people at top-performing organizations we surveyed said that the availability of adequate resources is a key element in successfully achieving change objectives.

Don’t put your plan on automatic pilot. Many companies do a lot of work to put a plan in place that clearly communicates and prioritizes the objectives, but mistakenly assume all they need to do is say, “Go,” and employees will stay committed and carry out the change. When you’re making your plan, you know what you would like to happen and you can predict some of the problems and obstacles that might pop up, but once you’re in it, you discover the plan will have to be adjusted. That’s why you must treat your plan as a living document – one that you keep coming back to and revising as you learn and discover unanticipated problems and opportunities.

Maintain enthusiasm among your employees for the duration of the change. You have to keep the change in front of your employees at all times, not only during that first month. It’s another reason why you can’t put your plan on automatic pilot and why leaders need to model behaviors that support the change for the duration of the initiative, not just at the kickoff.

Get middle managers on board. Conventional wisdom emphasizes the importance of getting the senior team on board. But one big difference between top companies and less successful ones seems to be the extent to which middle managers feel involved in and integral to the change process. Our research shows that the involvement level of middle managers in the top performing and the less successful organizations is similar at the initiation of change. However, top performing companies are more effective at maintaining and increasing mid-level manager involvement in the first three months than are the less successful organizations.

Managing change comes up on almost every list of organizational and leadership success factors. OnPoint’s survey provides the first step in showing companies where the problem is and what they can do to make their changes more successful. By following our prescriptives, you will keep your employees highly committed and focused on making change in your organization a success.

Richard Lepsinger is president of OnPoint Consulting with a 20-year track record of success as a human resource consultant and executive, helping companies close the gap between strategy and execution. For information visit: www.onpointconsultingllc.com

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