When you’re leading change in an organization, a lot can ride on your game plan. Take the guesswork out of bringing your strategy to life with these seven tried-and-true tips for creating successful organizational change.
This blog post was adapted from The Strategy Activation Playbook: A Practical Approach to Bringing Your Strategies to Life, by our own Aric Wood. The book is now available to order.
Moving into a new year always brings a time of reflection. As you start diving into your year-end retrospectives, you’ll probably be flush with information and insights that can help shine a light on things that need to change.
In business, if you’re a leader, advisor, or change practitioner leading an initiative to activate a newly developed strategy, there’s a lot you need to know to make sure your change will be accepted—and will stick.
XPLANE has been helping lead change programs for decades, and we’ve learned from successful leaders seven key things you can do to help people in your organization take to change.
#1 Make It Visual
When someone next to you says the word “sandwich,” what pops into your head? Is it an image of two pieces of bread, sliced deli meat, tomatoes, lettuce, and onions? Or is it the letterforms that make up the word S-A-N-D-W-I-C-H in big bold 24pt Helvetica font?
The human brain has been processing imagery much longer than the written word. Because of this long, long history of communicating without text, our brains are simply hard-wired to process visual information better and faster than we process text. Visualizing your final state or journey to your transformation can help you more clearly articulate the change to those who are being affected by the change.
#2 Make it Measurable
Would you set out to backpack the Pacific Crest Trail without a map? I hope not! Implementing a change initiative without a set of metrics is similarly unwise (although perhaps not as life-threatening). How else would you keep track of your progress, know how far you’ve come, or know how close to the finish line you are? You need measures of success in place at the beginning to help you understand the outcomes and impacts that will result if the vision is achieved.
#3 Make it People-Centered
Organizations are not machines—they’re made up of people. You can’t copy/paste a program or process from another source. Your solution should be shaped by the specific needs of the people being affected by the change.
Focusing on the diversity of groups involved across the organization to make sure your solution is addressing their unique wants and needs is the only way to make sure your change will stick.
#4 Co-Create Solutions
One quote that gets a lot of play around the XPLANE office comes from author David Weinberger: “The smartest person in the room is the room.”
A single person from the top or outside of an organization will never have all the knowledge needed to activate a successful change program. This is why XPLANE engages with partners early and maintains those connections through our journeys—because people are much more likely to buy into and support change if you ask for their input into the solution. People support what they help build.
#5 Activate People
Flatly telling someone what they have to do and expecting them to fall in line is a fallacy. It doesn’t work with my toddler, and it definitely doesn’t work within organizations. Humans are wired to be creative, innovative, and think critically.
This is why the activation curve is any change leader’s best friend. We need to understand how people take in new information, introduce them to a new way of working, and finally stick with it until it becomes a habitual part of their work. It takes time, patience, and resources to make it work, but it will work!
#6 Design in Governance
A starship without a bridge isn’t going to be able to navigate, communicate, or alter course in an emergency. One central command center is needed to give insight into the vision, metrics, initiatives, and key players in the transformation effort.
Putting a simple and agile governance model in place (emphasis on simple!) with milestones and basic contingency plans will enable you to keep momentum, measure, and adjust when needed.
#7 Embrace Agility
It’s easy to make plans that focus on success, but how often are we thinking, “What happens if this fails?”
Be prepared to course-correct along the way if things don’t work as you imagined. If you’re following our previous tips of making it measurable and designing in governance, then you’ll have access to insights and new information that you can leverage to find new opportunities and avoid obstacles along the journey.
The MVPs of Organizational Change
You might think of these seven tips as the MVPs of successful organizational change.
When you make your plan for change visual, measurable, and people-centered, building in governance and flexibility, you’ll have a better chance of getting people onboard with change—and making those changes stick.
Not only will you be moving your organization toward a brighter future, you’ll be laying the groundwork for future change-making—a playbook you’ll be proud to wield when it’s time for a new strategy.
To learn more, we invite you to check out The Strategy Activation Playbook: A Practical Approach to Bringing Your Strategies to Life, now available for sale at Amazon and through the XPLANE store.
We invite you to peruse the following posts that explore the history and theory behind strategy activation.
- The Organization as a Machine: An Outdated Concept
- Changing Change Management: The Shift from Process-Centered to People-Centered
- What is “Strategy Activation”?
We also invite you to download the following worksheets to support your change initiative.