October 5, 2015

Change efforts fail for many reasons. And you are one of them. Organizational change initiatives fall apart 50-70 percent of the time. CCL’s Bill Pasmore is serious about helping leaders improve their change track record. He doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulty of leading complex, ongoing change — but he won’t let you off the hook, either. Pasmore works directly with leaders and companies. He teaches about change and studies how change works (or doesn’t) in organizations. Most recently, he authored Leading Continuous Change: Navigating Churn in the Real World. Pasmore has tracked the common challenges for leading change efforts and found they fall into four categories:
  • Understanding the need for change. Leaders make too much or too little of the need for change. They try solutions that are familiar but not appropriate under the evolving circumstances. Their commitments to change lack true conviction, leading to abandonment later on.
  • Framing the change. Leaders set the scope of the change too broadly or too narrowly. They fail to align important stakeholders or get early input from key people in the organization about factors that could affect success. Executives allow consultants to lead them down the wrong path by advocating a preferred approach rather than what is really needed. And they don’t assess readiness before proceeding.
  • Undertaking the change. Leaders may be surprised to find that they are not prepared for their roles and have underestimated the personal challenge. Or they discover that the change will be more difficult than imagined. Change may be a struggle because leaders uncover issues they should have known about, or find that as things progress they are unable to adapt or adjust to new realities.
  • Sustaining the change. Leaders are dealing with change overload; they have difficulty sorting out what is really important and compete for the resources required for implementation. Keeping focus and commitment to any single, new initiative or change can easily interfere with another area of change. In today’s reality of churn, sustaining change is exponentially more difficult than standard change management advice would have you believe.
“No one sets out to fail at change,” says Pasmore. “Yet it is too easy to believe that we will succeed where others have failed.” What’s a leader to do? Pasmore offers a bit of advice:
  1. Stop relying on good intentions. Realize that change involves more obstacles than you thought. Admit you don’t have all the resources and tools and answers. And understand that as a leader, you, personally, will struggle with change.
  2. Start thinking about continuous change, not just single change. This is your reality and that of the other people in your organization. People experience all of the changes together, muddled and mixed in with whatever else is going on. You know this, but you need to factor it into your strategies and plans.
  3. Quit assuming that you are prepared to succeed. Collect data to assess readiness and capability (yours and your organization’s) rather than rely strictly on a gut feeling, hope or positive thinking. Understand how you will need to shift mindsets, build rigor and discipline and learn new skills. Help everyone else to do the same. Building greater capacity for leading and living change is the only way to go.
Leadership Development