Why change often fails

It’s the kind of problem that keeps small business owners up all night.  You know you need to make certain changes in how your business operates, but you also know the opposition that will come if you try to make those changes.  You’re not even sure the changes you are contemplating will produce the results you want, but you are certain that your business will suffer if you do not make the changes.  You try to determine which of your team members will be supportive and which will be resistant.  Some of the ones you fear will be most resistant are critical to the success of the change, so how can you get them on board?

One of my favorite books on change was written by John Kotter, a professor of leadership at Harvard Business School.  The title is Leading Change.  In the book he provides an eight step process for implementing successful change in an organization.  They are

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Create a guiding coalition
  3. Develop a vision and strategy
  4. Communicate the change vision
  5. Empower employees for broad-based action
  6. Generate short-term wins
  7. Consolidate gains and produce more change
  8. Anchor the new approaches in the culture of the organization.

Let me briefly touch on just the first one: establish a sense of urgency.  Kotter believes the failure to do this is one of the primary reasons most change efforts fail.  That has certainly been true for me.  Most of the changes I’ve failed to implement could be attributed to my failure to create a sense of urgency around the change.

People do not want to change until they are convinced the pain of not changing is greater than the pain they will feel when the change is implemented.  As long as they are comfortable with the status quo they will be very resistant to change.  One quick illustration.  Everyone knows that obesity and smoking are not good for one’s health, but how many people wait until they have a heart attack to begin to lose weight and stop smoking?  That initial heart attack creates a sense of urgency and suddenly they realize that they need to make major changes in their lifestyles if they want to enjoy a long productive life.  The same is true with any change that is needed.

Do not begin your efforts to introduce change with “what” until you have addressed the “why.”  Explain why the change is needed and the likely results if the change doesn’t happen.  If you can create the sense of urgency you are much more likely to get buy-in for your change efforts.

If you have not read Kotter’s book I highly recommend it before your next effort to introduce change to your organization.

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