Secrets of successful change

by 25 Jun 2009

A How many of us have tried to lose weight or quit smoking, go to the gym more or drink less coffee? We all know from experi ence that changing our own behaviour isn’t easy, even when we know it’s good for us. Or ganisational change usually involves getting large numbers of people to change their be haviour. Therefore, it’s not surprising that re search shows most change projects fail.

However, you can increase your chances of success if your change project: is designed to elicit the behavioural changes needed to create the desired organisational change; uses an effective communication strategy; and in cludes plans to embed the changes into the organisational DNA so that it becomes “the way we do it around here’”.

Organisational change and employee behaviour

Most change projects directly affect at least some people in the organisation, and usual ly require employees to change their behav iour in some way. For example, a change proj ect focusing on customer service may require front-line staff to provide a better level of cus tomer service or to cross-sell other prod ucts to existing customers.

A big IT-based change project may require employees to learn new software and to use the system in a different way from the previ ous system.

Behavioural change is an area of psy chology in which there has been a great deal of research. As HR or employee communi cation professionals we should be using the findings of this research to improve the suc cess of any change projects that require sig nificant changes in employee behaviour.

The role of communication

There are many tools that can be used to fa cilitate and reinforce organisational change. They include training, incentive programs, KPIs, feedback etc.

Communication is both a key tool and an enabler of most other tools. That is, for mech anisms such as KPIs, incentives etc to be ef fective they need to be well communicated and explained. Employees need to clearly un derstand what is expected of them, what re sources exist to assist them, and what con sequences there are for not complying. The diagram below demonstrates the critical and dual role that communication plays in organ isational change.

We have seen some organisations ap proach a change project as if it was a com munication project; which is expecting too much of communication. Communication plays an important role, but it does not play the only role.

Integrating change into organisational DNA

As with most behavioural change, the new behaviours required in an organisational change project won’t just happen overnight. In most cases you will need to repeat mes sages, reinforce expectations, remind em ployees of what to do, how to do it and the consequences (both positive and negative).

There needs to be consistency in all mes sages and motivators. For example, if KPIs or incentives that reinforce the old behaviours are left in place, any communication telling people what is expected of them now won’t be very successful.

Behavioural change needs to become second nature for change to be long-term and integrated into the organisational DNA. Repetition and consistency are critical for achieving this.

Poorly handled change projects may re sult in both a failed project and other prob lems for the organisation, such as poor morale and decreased productivity.

For more information contact Ingrid Selene on 02 9253 7738 or