Change is difficult……Or is it?
The truth is, when done right, change within organizations and communities can be rewarding, enriching, and energizing. That change must be difficult is a myth.
This myth is sustained by the fact that organizational change failure occurs at such a high rate. Mountains of literature exists on why this is so. Change Practitioners—experts in change management theory and practice—write endlessly about what we can do to avoid such failure.
According to the latest study from McKinsey, years of research on organizational transformations confirms a long-standing trend: few executives say their companies’ transformations succeed. And only 26 percent of employees familiar with their companies’ change initiatives report successful transformation. However, the research also reveals that when people are truly invested in change, it is 30 percent more likely to stick.
Even when organizational transformation involves failure avoidance tactics such as solid sponsorship and active stakeholder management, the typical change story outcome sounds something like this…
The initial change is implemented, and the project team is closed quickly—often too quickly—heading back to their old jobs or moving on to something new. Senior leadership and the change sponsors are now taking a closer look to ascertain the results. They are surprised to find that no one seems to own the new ways of working; thus, results are lackluster. Depending on the culture of the organization, there is likely a good amount of finger pointing and blame at all levels.
Ultimately, with ownership absent or at best unclear, the intended results are not realized. So what happened? The better question is—what was missing?
The human need for Calling and being in community
Most human beings yearn for a Calling—an internally experienced desire to be part of something bigger than themselves. The urge towards the Calling is conveyed by words such as:
I feel a pull to go after this—even if I don’t know why.
I am in search of meaning and my purpose.
There has to be more to life than this.
When that Calling is heard, people confirm it through connecting with others.
When that Calling is clear, clear enough to inspire action, change happens at an accelerated rate. These become the stories that celebrate the passion, determination, and courage it takes to pursue the work we feel then feel collectively called to do.
Co-creation + community = a recipe for success
As a practitioner who has spent over 20 years designing, leading and driving major change and business transformations across multiple industries, cultures, and communities, I have found one variable holds true: Change without co-creation and community doesn’t work.
Co-creation is the intentional and yet organic process of bringing together different groups and perspectives to jointly produce a mutually valued outcome. Community is the feeling of fellowship that is created as a result of sharing these common attitudes, interests, and goals.
Together, they are a recipe for ownership and therefore success.
Think about your own experience as a way to understand the power of this recipe.
Have you ever tried to accomplish a change within your community or organization by yourself?
Did you feel what might have been a Calling and then think:
“If I want something bad enough, it is up to me.”
When you look back at the cause or the Calling, the journey to get there, and the work required to make the change happen—how do you remember the experience?
Was trying to make this change happen a positive experience?
In the end, were you happy with the result?
How did you feel about the effort you gave? Energized? Depleted? Proud? Lonely?
Were others happy with the result?
Were the results, if any, longstanding?
While the range of responses are likely as varied as the experiences themselves, my guess would be that going it alone resulted in a change that didn’t happen or was not long-lasting—and that, at a minimum, you were dissatisfied.
EXAMPLE: Co-creating a purpose to believe in
I was living in Europe and responsible for organizational and leadership development at our global headquarters, which included nine sites around the world and roughly 3000 employees. Early in my role, we launched a massive change transformation designed to create a network-wide operating system for our manufacturing organization. Our business conditions didn’t allow us to take the typical 3-5 years this scale of change might need. We knew we had to be bold and made a decision to design a community-based approach that would significantly change our business and culture, and deliver results within 18 months.
Our first bold step in our community-based journey was to pull 30 local employees from our nine sites around the world, and move them to a shared location for 13 weeks, with the mission to co-create our future ways of working.
We intentionally selected a group of employees with mixed backgrounds, attitudes and job performance. Why? To ensure this sub-community represented the broader community—the good, the bad, the indifferent.
They started by sharing current practices. Soon, they became hungry to learn from each other and took on the challenge of designing more common and effective ways of working across a network with diligence and drive.
Not only were they invited to do something of importance, we invested in them through benchmarking visits, capability building, and training on Lean concepts and methods. We also equipped them with the best project and change management tools we could find.
As respect for one another and their current ways of working grew, relationships blossomed. They became wholly committed to one another’s success. We had, in just 13 weeks, launched a powerful change agent community who took this spirit and sense of oneness back to their sites with vigor and intention.
Immediately, the job of headquarters—those with the decision making authority and resources—was immensely easier. Rather than the typical uphill battle trying to get employees to buy into the change, they were so empowered and engaged that, honestly, we just had to stay out of their way! As a result, within 18 short months, we could claim financial success, measured by a 58 million dollar annually recurring savings due to improved processes.
More importantly, we had ignited a sense of pride and a culture of collaboration that would carry forward and serve the organization for years to come.
Although it has been several years since this change transformation was initiated, the organization still speaks about this time as the “best in their history”. While results have been sustainable, the experience of how they worked together to achieve them is most memorable.
Instead of a time of struggle, this period of change was a time of meaningful organizational improvement, which was important for the division’s success. And it was also a time where connections ran deep, the path to the future was clear, and the mechanisms to get there were inherent in how people now worked together.
Work for many during this time had become a Calling, made possible was through co-creation and community.
For some, especially those trying to drive change on a small budget, this approach might seem luxurious. But those of us who have been at this for years have learned that if you sign up to tackle organizational transformation, you have to be willing to invest up front.
How do you strike the right balance between investing and gaining?
Each organization or community has to make that call, likely by taking some risks and considering less what they can afford to do, and more what they can’t afford not to do. Getting people involved is not the place you clip the budget short.
The most important lesson
When initiating change or transformation, in any environment or for any cause, the most important thing to remember is how integral co-creation and community are to the change process.
So does Change have to be difficult? No. In fact, through co-creation and community, change can energize and inspire organizations to do extraordinary things!
Renée is an internationally known HR executive, leadership coach and leadership development expert with more than 20 years of experience in the U.S. and abroad. She has built leadership and organizational capability in more than 40 countries in the biotech, pharmaceuticals, health care, technology, internet, and service industries.
Renée coaches and advises vice presidents and director-level executives to lead in more integrated and meaningful ways. She has designed, implemented and led dozens of large-scale HR, leadership, and change transformation programs in every area of the business and across highly matrixed, global landscapes. Through experience and experimentation, she has learned what truly works. As a result, several of her change interventions and leadership programs have been benchmarked and published by organizations such as the Corporate Executive Board and Process Excellence Network.
Renée lives with her husband and two children in Sacramento, California. She and her family are fueled by their passion for travel, which includes 45 countries and counting. Inspired by these experiences, Renée is writing a book she hopes will expand some of the limiting paradigms that keep parents from traveling with children. Her blog on the topic can be found at travelmomentswithkids.com.