A survey prepared by Valcon shows that Danish companies and organisations are using many resources on executing changes1. Approx 40% of the respondents have implemented at least four to six major changes over the last five years!
The survey also shows that the number and complexity of changes are on the rise. No less than 80% of the respondents expect to carry out more and more complex changes in the future. What drives these changes is predominantly the need for increased efficiency as a derived effect of increased global competition (for private companies) and new politic priorities (public organisations). The overall conclusion is that successful management of the change process is more important than ever but experience also shows that this is a task that is hard to make tangible and manageable. This is also reflected in the success of Danish companies and organisations in maintaining the results of their changes.
The effect is not maintained
Based on the survey, we can see that many companies and organisations do not succeed in maintaining the changes. Only 30% of the respondents are successful in more than 75% of their changes while more than a third of the respondents fail in over half of their change initiatives.
This means that the effect of major investments in change processes are often lost after a short period of time, and the survey shows that this often happens because the right tools have not been used for execution and retention of the changes and consequently the achieved results. The consequence of this is obviously a major waste of resources and reduced effect gain. The ability to carry out changes efficiently in the organisations will, with the expected development, be a deciding competence for the successful company or organisation. It is therefore quite interesting to be able to understand what characterises execution of change with the companies who are able to maintain the results.
What are the successful doing?
The survey shows that the organisations with the most success have a strong focus on the human factors in the change. And they emphasise a deliberate management of the change
process, e.g. through utilisation of a fixed process (process model) for the total process of the change. They have benefitted from using a high communication level, often with central management and of course training and education.
It is positive to see that the deliberate management of the change process in one form or another is common among the respondents who succeeded in retaining their results over a two-year period.
They succeed in handling the human dimension of change in a way that is balanced with set-up and implementation of the professional content.
What goes wrong?
At the other end of the scale, we see that those with a lower success rate fail in connecting the change initiative to the business strategy, i.e. there is a lack of understanding of the strategic necessity of the change within the organisation. Another very important factor is the insufficient capacity allocated to the change. When this is combined with the third missing factor, the leaders’ willingness to act as role models in the change, we have three main causes of many failed change initiatives.
The concept “resistance to change” is too often used as an explanation for failed change initiatives. But it is not resistance to change that causes the failure. Resistance to change is a result of a lack of focus on the human factors, e.g. lack of involvement, insufficient communication, too little management involvement and participation as well as insufficient ability to plan after and prevent negative perceptions of the objectives of the change. In other words, it is Valcon’s belief that resistance can be avoided by deliberately planning your change process based on knowledge of human dynamics during change. But there are still very few actual process models and tools available to the organisations which want support for handling the human dimension in changes in parallel with the content dimensions.
Based on the survey and Valcon’s experiences, it is our conviction that companies and organisations to a far higher extent than today should ensure competences, methods and tools for change leadership. It is important to view change leadership as a core competence in the company as well as put in the effort necessary to ensure that it happens. It begins with the executive management’s view on change leadership as an essential management discipline.