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Adopt an Intentional Approach to Change

Change left unattended isn’t change. It’s just an idea or a hope that becomes an unfulfilled expectation that’s disappointing and often costly.

Picture yourself taking on a personal improvement goal like getting in shape and losing some weight. You set a date for reaching certain goals like how much you hope to weigh in 30 days, six months, one year. Next, you begin working on your new habits. You purchase workout clothes and sign up at the local gym.

But then life’s unexpected moments interfere with your plans. Competition for your time and attention increases. The time set aside for going to the gym is swallowed up by longer days at the office. Each day you tell yourself it’s OK – you’ll work out twice as hard tomorrow. Before you realize it, you’re well past the target dates for achieving your goals. You look back and ask yourself what you could have done differently. You started out with every good intention. You had a plan and the resources. But other demands kept surfacing.

A similar scenario often plays out in our workplaces. We establish business objectives and goals, define and design the change, build a project plan and timeline, acquire resources and begin with bold aspirations of accomplishment. But despite our good intentions we can easily lose our grip as business life pulls us away.

Along with those who are needed to lead change, we get absorbed into daily duties of running the business, drawn into competing initiatives and additional job responsibilities. We fall into the trap of thinking someone else will take care of it or convince ourselves there’s always tomorrow. As our good intentions lose attention, and as activities lose priority, the outcomes we hoped to achieve seem less likely and the ones we hoped to avoid begin to appear: additional cost, schedule delays, increased resistance, disenchanted stakeholders and missed benefits.

Change left unattended isn’t change. It’s just an idea or a hope that becomes an unfulfilled expectation that’s disappointing and often costly.

In contrast, intentional change requires commitment, discipline and perseverance. Organization leaders need to make significant investments in people and the change process. An intentional approach to change is committed to meeting individuals where change takes place with a primary goal of helping employees succeed. When sponsors, managers and project team members are consistently focused on the change process, individuals and organizations achieve change and realize desired outcomes and objectives.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked with individuals who successfully lead and manage change in their organizations. Their intentional approach to change includes these characteristics:

Mindful – An intentional approach to change is mindful of the organization’s culture, its entities and the dynamics in motion. It doesn’t discount artifacts, history and traditions. It recognizes capabilities and stumbling blocks so that it can leverage strengths and manage weaknesses. This approach acknowledges that change is not always favorable to everyone but anticipates that most can make the transition when led effectively.

Clear – An intentional approach to change makes sure that employees are aware of what the change is and why the change is required. Employees understand expectations, outcomes, and the path to achieve them. Priorities and expectations are clearly established and followed.

Prepared – An intentional approach to change defines specific outcomes, objectives, milestones, activities and timeline. The organization commits the resources necessary for designing and implementing the change. It ensures that leaders and project team members are equipped with the information and tools to perform their change leadership duties effectively.

Aligned – An intentional approach to change ensures that parallel, upstream, and downstream systems do not clash with the planned change in function or compete for resources. It makes sure employees have a clear line of sight between their job role and duties and the change. Ultimately it recognizes the connection between employee adoption, utilization and return on investment.

Inclusive – An intentional approach to change engages those who are directly affected by the change in the design and implementation process. When employees have input into the design and see their peers lead implementation activities, they adopt change more readily.

Active – An intentional approach to change ensures senior leaders and front-line managers are actively involved throughout the change life cycle, leading others through the change transition, and managing the implementation. This solves problems and removes barriers quickly. And it provides continual governance, oversight and support to the project team.

Removes obstacles – An intentional approach to change inhibits opportunities to continue in the old way. It removes parallel and legacy systems. It leads by example, reinforces change and celebrates those who work in the new way.

Listens – An intentional approach to change requires communicating openly, frequently and in terms its audience understands. More importantly it requires that change leaders listen actively to the spoken and unspoken word. They seek feedback and input, both critical and constructive. This approach recognizes that listening carefully to employees during times of uncertainty can alleviate resistance, maintain productivity, and promote acceptance.

Doesn’t assume – An intentional approach to change does not assume that someone’s job role or tenure means effective change leadership and management will occur on its own accord. Change leaders provide guidance, coaching and direction, with special support for those who struggle or are new at leading change.

Sustains – An intentional approach to change maintains focus and purpose. It doesn’t allow distractions or shortcomings to prevent reaching objectives and goals. It doesn’t view “go live” as the finish line. It maintains course long after implementation, ensuring the change is self-sustaining.

Embracing and cultivating these characteristics takes time and effort. Being intentional about managing change is an emotional commitment to consistently do the right thing the right way.

Leaders and managers of change efforts need to make a personal investment in the greater good of people and the organization.

The return on investment of an intentional approach to change far outweighs the cost of unintentionality. When a significant organizational change is not well-planned and loses focus,  execution wanes, outcomes aren’t met, employees become discouraged, money and time are wasted, and stakeholders lose confidence. In contrast, an intentional approach to change delivers on all fronts.

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. Jeff’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 Jeff at [email protected]

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