“It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself” – Charles Darwin, 1809.

Change is changing.

Organizational change has traditionally been viewed as a linear process, from A to a fixed endpoint B. We approached change as a project, with a separate team responsible for overseeing and implementing the change process, allowing the organization to return to business as usual once the project finalized.  A study from McKinsey and Company[i] has shown that over 70% of these “major” change initiatives fail.

Change is now a continuous, incremental or even disruptive process, with each initiative building on the next and multiple transformations occurring simultaneously. It comes from both within and outside the organization, as companies operate in markets that are increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA).  The endpoint B has become an ever-moving target, and in some cases it doesn’t even exist.

We sat down with Diane Van den Berge, experienced in communicating organizational change, to discuss the topic. Diane has supported change initiatives during the past two decades, is well aware of shortcomings in leading change, and keeps trying out new ways. We asked her how to better lead organizations through transformation processes.

According to Diane, how we lead change in organizations needs to match the pace of change itself. Furthermore, key talents expect to work in jobs that give them purpose, mastery, and autonomy. They wish to be involved and we should enable them to naturally speak out what agile organizations ask for and develop their self-leadership so that they can be assertive actors in the Work of the Future.

John P. Kotter speaks about Accelerating in his book “XLR8, Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World.”

The change-prepared organization

Diane reflects that the 90’s were filled with optimism, driven by the coming of the information age, knowledge management, the learning organization, and more. However, the bursting of the internet bubble in 2000, the September 11 attacks, the 2008 crisis, information overflow through social media, the need to be able to validate information, and the volatility of markets and politics alike have changed our working conditions.

Many employees today have lived through several change and transformation processes, each with varying degrees of success. The result of this is that many have become wary and even fearful of new change initiatives – their experience tells them, true or false, that change tends to go nowhere at best. This has resulted in a lack of transparency, courage, and trust.

Transparency: we need to set aside more time for organization-wide dialogues. In order to embrace change and dare to try out new ideas, leaders AND employees need to have more strategic insight and entrepreneurial thinking. They need to understand the impact of their actions on the company and beyond.

Courage: Diane argues that employees and middle managers tend to feel powerless. Either because they are being told about but are not truly involved in the change process, or because they underestimate their own potential to be actors. As a result, they resist and react to what’s required.

When people don’t feel empowered, their only power is resistance.

Trust: Trust is not a primary behavior. You can give some in advance of knowing a person, but mainly, it is the outcome of many behaviors and actions, from leaders towards their teams and from the individuals in and in between teams. In order to solve complex challenges, individuals in teams need not only to be competent, but they need to live a culture of trust.

Even the most constructive amongst us react on triggers … and anything to do with change does trigger.

One could say that developing a more agile or a growth mindset (Carol Dweck – mindset of the “not-yet”) will support building more robust and resilient company cultures and change-prepared organizations that thrive in today’s and tomorrow’s VUCA world.

How to create an organization that embraces change?

Organizations that can anticipate, respond, and adapt to change and even pro-actively invite change instead of going through long periods of resistance will be in the advantage. They will live on and maybe even thrive, attract and retain talent. Van den Berge says that the following is needed in order to make people in an organization embrace change:

  1. Know the WHY of your change initiative well, be honest about your objectives and have a sound procedure in place. Make sure that your purpose makes sense to your people, EBIT alone doesn’t really motivate.
    You could follow Kotter’s eight-step process (Link), new and old, which is still relevant today. The eight accelerators of the latest Kotter process update, are: create a sense of urgency; build a guiding coalition; form a strategic vision & initiatives; enlist a volunteer army; enable action by removing barriers; generate short-term wins; sustain acceleration; and institute change.
  2. Establish a culture of dialogue so that all feel involved. The more leaders and employees understand the why, how and what of the initiative, the easier it becomes to show courage.
    Communicate the change vision and initiatives by holding continuous dialogues, cascading throughout your organization, letting people explore the change.
    It goes without saying that in a change-prepared organization, where leaders and employees already think as entrepreneurs and have the necessary strategic insight, meaningful dialogue is a given. However, an imminent change initiative can be the occasion to start investing in strengthening your change-preparedness.
  3. Be authentic in your communication and listen to each other. Diane shares that she often encounters beliefs like “emotions have nothing to do in business”, or “being professional means leaving feelings at home”.
    In courageous organizations, people of all levels dare to express the true reasons of their point of view and overtly share their thoughts and feelings. Their leaders dare to communicate, even before knowing all the facts. They discuss both facts and assumptions on which they have based or will base their decisions, they will listen to the reactions they have triggered, and employees are assertive enough to let their leaders know … without drama.

By implementing these three behaviors, you create a sense of empowerment in employees, allowing them to be more open and ready to experiment, less fearful of making mistakes, and more open to support each other and their organization.

Diane Van den Berge has been coaching organizations and people for over 20 years, and with an impressive client list of multinational corporations in 3 different continents, is an expert in facilitation, coaching and change communication.
Diane is co-creator of the greytogreen® program, a group-based learning experience that enables people to successfully collaborate and thrive in permanently evolving environments.

Celemi’s simulations and dialogue programs help your people foster strategic insight and an entrepreneurial spirit. Contact us to find out more about how we can help you navigate organizational change.

[i] https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/leadership/changing-change-management