Managing Strategic Change – Beat the Odds with the Three R’s

By Mark E. Green

According to IBM’s 2006 Global CEO Study, 80% of the 750 top CEOs and business leaders interviewed graded themselves as having been less than “highly successful” at executing strategic change. The issues precipitating change in businesses often include mergers / acquisitions, shifting markets and competitive conditions, stagnant internal culture and attitudes, product / service quality, and rethinking the customer experience.

The hard reality is that humans are creatures of habit, and study after study has demonstrated that we are not effective at changing our thoughts or our behaviors in a sustainable manner. Since organizations are groups of people, they are subject to the same challenges – only magnified by complexity and anything less than exceptional employee engagement. There are countless studies, the IBM survey among them, to illustrate this as well.

Successful strategic change is linked to the ability of those in an organization, as individuals, to change. This is an inconvenient and uncomfortable, but highly useful acknowledgement. It has the power to transform the dialogue – starting at the highest levels – from “We need to change” (translation: “Everybody else needs to change”) to the realization and acceptance that “I need to change.” Once it’s on the table, there’s no escaping it.

Unfortunately, mere realization and acceptance does not make it any easier.

Imagine for a moment that you are lying in a bed, drifting between consciousness and unconsciousness. During a lucid moment, a well informed and trusted authority figure leans over you and says “The good news is you’re going to live, but if you don’t make some changes to the way you think, feel, and act – you probably won’t live very long.”

Do you think if you were in that situation you could change?

If you answered “yes,” like most people do, then you are probably deluding yourself. This particular scenario has been scientifically studied. The patients were coronary bypass post-operatives, the authority figures were their surgeons, and the required changes involved diet and exercise. Research has shown that the odds are 9-1 against your ability to change, and this is in a situation where your life is literally on the line! Since life is rarely on the line when we contemplate change in business, it is likely that the odds against its success are even steeper.

In his book “Change or Die,” author [http://www.alandeutschman.com/]Alan Deutschman utilizes this heart patient example and two others – criminals and workers – to illustrate three prerequisites for sustainable change. They are the three R’s – Relate, Repeat, Reframe – and they can help you beat the odds.

Relate

It is critical for individuals facing change to become both overwhelmingly convinced of the need to change and believers that it (and their own personal change) is possible. The emotion of hope plays a significant role in this, as do relationships with people or organizations that inspire and nurture it.

What can you do to more clearly show your people the rationale for change? How can you more effectively tap the emotion of hope to help your employees relate and believe in the possibilities?

Repeat

Like all animals, we learn most effectively through repetition. When there is hope and an understanding of the necessity for change, it becomes easier for us to try new things. Your ability to relate helps you learn, practice, and eventually master the new skills you’ll need. This “training” process will have its share of failures – just think for a moment about how you learned the skill of riding a bicycle! If we don’t fail, we can’t learn. If your organization doesn’t openly encourage failure (and subsequent learning), your employees will never get the chance to practice and become skilled at change.

Is failure punished in your organization or does your culture celebrate failure as a sign of learning and progress? How can you provide your people with more opportunities to practice and learn how to change?

Reframe

The process of learning new thinking and behaviors, almost by definition, alters your frame of reference. This enables you to look at the world in a different way – one that would have been impossible before you changed. When you look at the world in a different way, all sorts of other things change too. Different questions are asked, leading to different answers and to new possibilities. Opportunities seem to appear out of nowhere and solutions to previously insurmountable obstacles suddenly materialize.

What more can you do to create both hope and learning in your organization which will lead to reframing and new thinking?

As with so many things in this world, these concepts are easier to comprehend and discuss than they are to implement. If you permit yourself to think for a moment and reframe that statement, you might begin to see the rough outline of an opportunity. That is, by getting just a little better at implementing change, you’ll be doing far better than most of the pack.

Here are two concrete steps to get started right away:

Align yourself with an outside individual or organization that can inspire hope for change and with whom your team can relate. New relationships are frequently catalysts for productive change.

Allocate funds and time for leadership and key organizational players to become students of change. Allow them to practice new thinking and behaviors by encouraging experimentation and failure.

Although the odds seem to be stacked against you, the path to sustainable strategic change is well researched, sufficiently documented, and waiting for you to start your journey. An understanding of the three R’s is the first step. The rest of your trip depends on how you choose to act upon them.

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Since founding Performance Dynamics Group in 2003, Mark Green has spoken to and consulted with thousands of business leaders to help them predictably convert the promise of strategic change into a reality of performance and results. His clients absolutely do not want yet another “flavor of the year” initiative — they want measurable and sustainable results.

If you feel the same and would like to understand how his speaking and consulting might be just the right fit for your organization, give him a call at 732-537-0381.

To learn more and to subscribe to Mark’s free monthly enewsletter, visit him on the web at http://www.performance-dynamics.net

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