As it appeared in the Daily Nation May 22nd, 2018
by Lucy Kiruthu
We live in a changing world. Change is all around us. We change a few things without much hassle but most change is difficult. Many organizations and even individuals have consistently struggled with change. We do not want to change our way of doing things. We are happy with the status quo. As a result, many change initiatives both small and big fail.
In my career life both in the corporate world and as a management consultant, I have witnessed many change initiatives. Early in my career, I was involved in quality management systems leading to ISO certification, implementation of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Systems and introduction of new products. A little later and to this day, I have been involved in guiding company-wide transformation initiatives anchored on customer service excellence. These initiatives are aimed at helping organizations focus more on the customer with the end goal being loyal customers. In some organizations, the transformation is evident immediately while in others it is a long, laborious and hectic journey towards the desired goal.
Why does some change stick? Why does some change fail? In a Harvard Business Review article, professor David Shore an authority on change management states that change fails because leaders underestimate the challenges related to the people. Change happens because people make it happen. I believe that change needs to be managed with the people in mind. This means preparing the staff that will be affected by the change well in advance.
Leadership is a very important if not the most important element in the change process. John Kotter of the famous 8-stage Change Model in differentiating between management and leadership argues that while management is concerned with order and consistency, leadership is concerned with change. I can confidently say that in those organizations where the leadership takes personal interest in guiding the change initiatives, the success rate is high.
As the lead change agents, leaders must understand why change is difficult, start by changing themselves and commit to overseeing the change process to the end. To successfully lead change, leaders need to first paint a clear picture of how the desired future looks. Further, they must engage all stakeholders early enough, involve them and keep them informed on progress made. Allocation of required resources is also critical in making change happen. If need be leaders should seek external help to support the change process.
Change is inevitable. Today, no single organization can escape the need for change. Organizations need to not only effectively respond to changes in in their internal and external environment but also plan for expected and be ready for unexpected change. Technology as a major driver for change has seen businesses and even industries change their way of doing business. A decade and half ago, while in graduate school I wrote a paper on Jack Welch while he was at the helm of General Electric. Jack now a former CEO was of the opinion that organizations need to seek change. His quote “Change before you have to!” remains a lesson to many. Maybe for change to happen we need to change how we view change.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy