Why do some managers achieve change whereas others fail to do so? Why did William Bratton succeed in changing NYPD in the 1990s while George Fisher failed to make the needed changes at Kodak?
This question becomes even more interesting when you consider that change is often an imperative rather than an option. Kodak as a company had to change when it faced the threat of digital cameras. Even after massive efforts by the CEO, Kodak failed to change and followed a dark road of status quo that ended in bankruptcy.
To understand the answer, it is important to go deeper into the process of change. Let us take something personal to understand this process. Assume you set a goal of changing your overall health. Being a smart manager, you make this goal concrete and time-bound: to lose 20lbs in 6 months. Let us understand the change process using this example.
Stage 1: Enthusiasm drives change
In the first stage, you make a decision to bring about a change. You decide to lose weight through diet and exercise. You have high confidence that you will achieve the goal. Once you committed to that goal, you entered stage 1 of the change process. This stage is marked by enthusiasm and hope in the absence of any tangible feedback.
Stage 2: Faith and Grit
In the second stage, the feedback level is still low because change efforts do not produce visible results. At this stage, the initial enthusiasm for achieving the goal has fizzled out and you still see no visible results. In fact, you begin to feel the pains of change. Perhaps cravings haunt you, or your mood is worse than normal, or you may experience a few minor injuries.
The goal of losing weight that seemed achievable just some time back appears difficult to achieve. In your mind, the arguments for postponing or changing the goal, become stronger. You may start entertaining thoughts such as ‘I need to focus on my career”. Or “BMI is not a good measure of health” or “once I get through this difficult project, I will get back to working out”. At that stage, there is a high likelihood that you will give up the goal and go back to status quo.
Most efforts towards change fizzle out in stage 2 and thus stage 2 is the real test of fire for anyone seeking to bring about a lasting change.
Stage 3: Cruise
Stage three is marked by the first evidence of results from change efforts. Either you feel better due to the endorphins kicking in, or you are able to finally run a reasonable distance. You may actually notice the jeans becoming loose around the waist. This positive feedback starts a virtuous cycle that turbo charges your efforts.
Some change management efforts may still fail at this stage if something external stops you in your tracks. An injury may derail your efforts or some life event may take your entire energy away from the goal in question.
Stage 4: Escape Velocity
Once you reach beyond stage 3, you achieve escape velocity where you start to get increasing returns on your efforts. Exercise seems easy to do and in fact becomes enjoyable. In this stage, you have actually lost significant weight and people are complimenting you on your new looks. Your identity has changed and diet and exercising are now a part of your life that need no extra effort. In fact, if you miss a workout, you start to feel worse. Whether you have achieved the goal of losing 20 lbs or are almost there, it seems that you have won.
All change efforts go through these four stages and this process answers the question I raised in the beginning. At the heart of making the change stick is to somehow complete stage 2 and enter stage 3. Spending too long in stage 2 will doom your change management initiative.
In stage 2, the initial enthusiasm for change has subsided and pains from change begin to mount. Often the results from change efforts are not visible and the support of organization begins to dwindle. This is where successful change management efforts differ from less successful one.
Succeeding at Change Management
So what did Bratton do that Fisher did not? It goes back to how they managed stage 2. Bratton added a new set of process measures that helped get a better sense of results in fighting crime by NYPD. His massive effort in stage 1 along with a new measurement system ensured that the time spent in stage 2 was minimal. On the other hand, Fisher did not make a strong argument that Kodak was in crisis. As a result, he did little to move the organization from stage 2 to stage 3. Kodak spent too much time in stage 2, the worst place to spend time during a change process. As a result, the resistance against change began to mount and that resistance eventually derailed change management efforts.
Avoiding The Key Change Management Mistake
At a personal level, change management requires you to create a compelling reason to change and develop in-process measures to derive feedback. Focusing on the hours you ran during the week versus how much weight you lost in the week is more helpful in stage 2.
At an organizational level, the compelling reason for change needs to be communicated well and often. Secondly, you need to develop better process and outcome measures that amplify the results being achieved due to change efforts. Finally, the grit and discipline of the change leaders are critical for pushing the organization from stage 2 to stage 3.
In short, successful change leaders manage the transition from stage 1 to stage 3 in better ways than less successful change managers do.
How does your organization help move from stage 1 to stage 3 quickly? What do you do to make this transition faster?