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How to Keep Your Pulse on the People Side of Organizational Change



One of the greatest leadership challenges during organizational change is making the invisible visible. Many leaders underestimate this. They focus on flawless execution. To remain competitive, companies must avoid costly mistakes. But emphasizing implementation without creating a sense of urgency can create change resistance and confusion, causing people to give up before they start. These leaders underestimate the organizational inertia needed to achieve big results. Any organization can move forward with small incremental changes, but building for the future in today's rapidly evolving environment means making bold changes. Here is one tool busy leaders can use to keep a pulse on what matters most during major organizational change.




Why you need an organizational change framework


Benjamin Franklin suggested that the only certainty in life is death and taxes. I would add change. And as the world changes, leaders and businesses must change too.


Too often, organizational change management is simply a series of communications where executives or project managers inform the business that change is coming. Leading change is more than communicating the features, advantages, and benefits of change.


Adopting an organizational change framework helps you and others manage the people side of change and create organizational inertia.


Culture is one thing that influences everything in your organization. An organization's culture is composed of norms of behavior and shared values. Employees and leaders do not reinforce behaviors they do not value. A leader alone can create the organizational inertia needed to change without followers, not even the CEO.


I have two organizational change frameworks I frequently use when working with leaders to implement bold change. And I like that you don't have to be an organizational development expert to understand and apply these two frameworks.





Kotter's eight-step change management model provides an easy-to-follow roadmap for change managers. The eight steps are sequential, and Kotter suggests that skipping steps leads to failure.

  1. Create a sense of urgency

  2. Assemble the guiding team

  3. Develop a compelling vision

  4. Create a communication plan

  5. Develop and implement the plan

  6. Evaluate results and impact

  7. Generate and celebrate early wins

  8. Don't let up!

For a more technical understanding of these steps, I recommend reading Leading Change. If you prefer more of a fable approach, consider reading Our Iceberg is Melting.


ProSci's ADKAR model is my other go-to change framework. It is short and to the point.

  • A – awareness of the change

  • D – a desire to participate and support the change

  • K – knowledge of how to change

  • A – ability to implement the desired skills and behaviors

  • R – reinforcement to sustain the change

To learn more about the ADKAR model, I recommend reading ADKAR: A model for change in business, government, and our community by Hiatt.


In my experience, the critical success factors are finding a framework structure simple enough to be understood by others and staying flexible in your approach.




Keeping your pulse on what matters most during organizational change


Busy leaders can miss subtle signs of confusion, resistance, anxiety, frustration, or retreat during change. A pulse check helps change leaders make the invisible visible.


Collecting structured feedback aligned with a change framework helps leaders stay connected with those impacted by the change. A pulse check can help identify potential barriers to change so leaders can bring out the best in their followers throughout the change.

Pulse checks can collect this feedback in many different ways. Asking questions in one-to-one or team meetings is a great way to create a conversation. Also, an anonymous organizational survey can help awareness of concerns without fear of consequences.




The following statements align with the Kotter and ADKAR change frameworks. When administering these in a survey format, I suggest asking participants to respond by ranking each statement on a scale from 'strongly agree' to 'strongly disagree.' The added benefit of using a structured survey is the ability to monitor trends and assess the effectiveness of interventions to help remove barriers.

  • I understand why I need to change and the impact on my job.

  • I know the business case for change.

  • The right people are in the correct positions to support the change.

  • I am aligned with the change vision.

  • My peers are on board with the change.

  • The organization has shared goals aligned with the change vision.

  • I have the knowledge, skills, and ability to successfully perform in new ways aligned with the change.

  • I understand how to achieve quick wins and have the support needed.

  • Leadership is committed to the change.

  • I receive rewards and recognition for behaviors aligned with supporting the change.

The goal of a pulse survey is not to try and achieve a perfect score but identify hidden strengths or blind spots so you can best lead the change. You should adjust the questions over time, especially when consistently receiving strongly agreed responses. A key to success with survey feedback is listening to understand the why behind the responses by engaging in a two-way conversation and acting on what you learn.

What is the real change management challenge for you?




References


Hiatt, J. (2006). ADKAR: A model for change in business, government, and our community. Prosci Research.


Kotter, J. (2018). Leading Change. Harvard Business Review Press


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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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