A three step approach to transformations

Over the years I have been involved in many transformation projects, reorganizations, culture changes and so on. I have read many books and articles on how to best achieve success in transforming organizations. My master thesis was mainly on how to create a successful IT service organization based on ITIL and ISO20000 starting with a traditional IT department. I’ve found that there are 3 steps or groupings of activities and tasks. 

Step 1. Identify the Crisis

The first step is to Identify the Crisis. In order to transform any organizations you need to identify the main reason to do so. In Kotter’s 8 reasons why transformation efforts fail the first reason is lack of sense of urgency. You need to establish that sense of urgency first. And it is important that the problem you have identified to solve is worth the effort and mayhem that comes with a large change initiative. The crisis needs to be believable for the people effected. And the best crisis is one where people can see it coming without it being there yet. Solving an existing crisis does not demand changing the organization, it demands crisis management and acute short-term actions. You want to consider identifying a crisis before it occurs and that can only be prevented by a full blown change initiative. When you can pinpoint the crisis to avoid and you can make it believable through the presentation of the right facts you have done half the job. You also need to be able to give the right solution to solve the problem: a compelling vision of a new future. And you need the right stakeholders in the organization to agree that the crisis needs to be prevented and that your vision is the solution to prevent it.

Step 2. Start the Revolution

When the crisis is properly identified it is time for the second step and to start the revolution. It is one thing to analyze what could become a problem and to discuss ways to prevent it from happening. It is quite another to actually do something about it. Most change initiatives fail because there is no action following the brainstorms and the strategic retreats. In order to make a change, something needs to move. You need to ignite the change and release the energy. Do not be afraid of resistance to change, that is only an indication that change is happening and that people are worried about what how it would affect them. No resistance and no anger only show that people are not feeling the change and you have not reached them. The revolution needs to be swift, energy needs to be focused on short-term gains and on taking away the obstacles preventing the change from happening. That is actually the main goal to start the revolution: to take away old systems and old beliefs.

Step 3. Enable the Evolution

After the revolution has made the big changes and has set the motion in place to prevent the crisis it is time for the third step: enable evolution. Here is where the real change is going to happen. It is all about empowering the people to reach the goals set out in the vision and strategy. In the revolution the conditions are created for everyone to grow into their new role. People now have understood and agreed the urgency, the solution and what is expected of them. They have internalized the vision and are motivated to make it work. In the revolution the main obstacles has been swept aside and they now it is time to get on with it. They might need some additional guidance and coaching, but they will ask for it when it is time.

In general I have found that many change initiatives fail because they do not address these steps enough. Most of these start with the right intentions but fail to deliver in the long run. Specific because most managers who are in charge of these initiatives do not realize how to communicate the crisis and solutions, are afraid of making the changes and to revolutionize their approach and do not know how to empower people to enable evolution and growth.