Have you experienced that unsettling feeling when your car has stalled at a traffic light or on the highway, miles away from any sign of civilization? Just a few moments earlier, you were making steady progress toward your destination. Now, you’re off to the side of the road, delayed, wondering what when wrong and how you’re going to get going again.
For the car owner, stalls are annoying, sometimes expensive, and always an untimely nuisance. For pilots, a stall presents a much more serious issue. We can experience stalls in our personal life, too. Aspirations and goals can be hampered by time, health and relationship difficulties.
In our daily work life, stalls can occur anywhere at any time due to a wide range of people, process, system and resource failures. Organizational change initiatives are no different. As an organization transitions from the current state to the future state, stalls can be attributed to competing priorities or initiatives, lack of sponsorship and management engagement, poor communication or training, policy and procedural conflicts, solution design flaws, and reinforcement and accountability shortcomings. Regardless of what caused it, a stalled organizational change initiative will delay expected outcomes and results.
Here are eight tips to get your change initiative moving again if you suspect it has stalled:
1. Ensure employees are aware of what the change is and why it is needed. Delays are often due to employees struggling to adopt change. They do not know – or misunderstand – what the change entails and the reason for it. Effective communication by the right person or function plays a significant role in creating employee awareness and understanding. Whether you are 10 or 100 days into the change journey, creating and maintaining awareness will mitigate one of the most common change stalls. Insider tip: Apply the 3x 6x rule of communication. Employees are more likely to believe, understand and retain information when the communication is received from three credible sources and at six different times.
2. Communicate “what’s in it for me,” not just “what’s in it for the organization.” A stall can occur if employees don’t see the value in changing. Communications that focus only on organizational benefits can leave employees embittered, disenchanted or apathetic. Ensure communications speak to the benefits of changing and consequences for not changing, at both the individual and organization levels. Insider tip: Communicating WIIFM is best performed by the employee’s direct supervisor. Supervisors usually have the best insight into what motivates or demotivates an employee. Having this insight, along with knowledge of the change, allows the supervisor to tailor the communication so that it resonates with the employee and results in a favorable outcome.
3. Train or re-train employees on how to perform the change. Expect a stall if employees have not been effectively taught how to perform work in the new way. Work being performed incorrectly, inadequately, not at all or via a workaround are all indicators that employees may not know how to work in a new way. Insider tip: While it’s important, communicating the what, why, who, when, expected outcomes and WIIFM does not qualify as teaching employees how to change. Ensure training focuses on instructing the employee on how to perform work and fulfill their roles and responsibilities.
4. Help employees perform the change. A stall can occur when employees struggle performing change. There are few things more frustrating than being expected to achieve something and then not being able to do so. Stalls of this nature can stem from cognitive, psychological, physical or personal limitations. Through feedback, observation, and performance reporting, identify struggling employees and provide them with a coach or support network. Insider tip: Refrain from assuming once employees have been trained or hold a certain title that they will be able to successfully perform the change. There can be formidable gaps between title, knowledge, skills and application. Follow up with employees shortly after training and implementation to assess whether additional coaching is required.
5. Keep sponsors actively engaged. When employees do not hear and see their supervisor, manager and organizational leaders actively engaged in the change processes, the validity and priority of the change initiative can be dramatically affected. Delivering kickoff announcements and funding the change are necessary to launch a change, but to keep it from stalling leadership needs to remain actively and visibly engaged throughout the life of the initiative. Insider tip: At the beginning of the initiative, develop a sponsor action plan that outlines key activities throughout the life of the project. Help sponsors and managers prepare and perform these tasks along the way, following up with continual feedback and reinforcement coaching to sustain their engagement.
6. Keep the end in mind and in front of employees. Do employees have a picture of what the future looks like? Do they have a clear line of sight between their new job duties and the overall vision? Are expectations known and understood? Organizations that provide employees with a clear and shared understanding of what is to be attained, how it will be accomplished, who is needed to achieve it and when it will be reached position themselves for success. Organizations that don’t provide and reinforce the vision set out on a potentially long and tenuous journey laden with delays and waste. Insider tip: Overcome that “gray” unknown and uncomfortable zone of change by providing employees with examples of what good looks like and sharing success stories from other departments or organizations. Track, trend and report forward progress, and provide mentors and coaches who have “been there and done that.”
7. Coordinate and manage competing initiatives and priorities. When daily business objectives and other organizational initiatives compete for resources, time, and attention, the affected managers, supervisors and employees can be left feeling stretched thin, conflicted, and ineffective. These constraints can slow, if not stall, progress because of the strain they put on those who are supposed to lead, manage, implement, and perform change. Insider tip: Many organizations face the real issue of change saturation without realizing it. At the conception of change, take an inventory of other existing or planned change initiatives. Evaluate your organization’s bandwidth and ability to implement new changes, factoring in daily responsibilities of those employees who will be expected to still run the business and implement change. Ensure that business leaders and managers are aligned on expectations for daily work and change implementation priorities.
8. Align the obvious and not so obvious. Achieving the full potential of our change initiative can be stalled when direct and indirect influencing factors, (processes, procedures, policy, tools, structures, systems) are not aligned and supportive of the change. Employees are more likely to be successful when they are equipped properly and do not experience conflict. Through observation and feedback, be on the lookout for employees struggling with making the change due to misalignment. If you find alignment issues, make the necessary adjustments and get moving again. Insider tip: During the design phase of change, conduct a “what if” or risk analysis to identify potential conflicts between the change and existing direct or indirect influencers. Ensure the solution design team and project sponsors are made aware and action plans are established to mitigate conflicts and create alignment.
As principal consultant for Life Cycle Engineering, Jeff Nevenhoven develops solutions that align organizational systems, structures, controls, and leadership styles with a company’s business vision and performance objectives. Nevenhoven’s experience enables him to work effectively with employees throughout an organization to implement solutions that remove functional barriers and prepare and lead people through sustaining change. You can reach him at [email protected].