Purpose, People, Plans, and Progress – The Magical Formula to Successful Change

75% of change efforts fail. Though the research around the change failures is vast and the situations themselves can be very complicated, most of this failure can be boiled down to a couple main factors: misaligned expectations and underestimating the complexity of change. One study stated that fewer than 10% of the failures during change initiatives had to due with technical issues or the change itself. In fact, most had to do with lack of communicating vision and negative attitudes.

With these statistics in mind, it can be overwhelming as a leader to identify what we can do to combat the large potential for failure. One way to overcome these roadblocks is to focus attention on how and when communication is needed throughout any change initiative.

Understand that different personalities will experience and need different things during change and tailor your communication to each type. Emergent Performance Solutions offers a free eBook on how to communicate to 100% of your audience. This formula can also be utilized to structure your change communications as well!

To communicate to all four ways throughout a change initiative, consider following Purpose, People, Plan, Progress formula:

Purpose: Communicate the overall purpose and "why" of the change. Any research or studies around change management agree that the most important and often forgoten step when communicating change is creating the purpose and buy-in for the change itself. Getting all employees behind the reason for the change is crucial and the "why" of the change should be repeated often. "The key to this is developing a compelling message showing why the existing way of doing things cannot continue. This is easiest to frame when you can point to declining sales figures, poor financial results, worrying customer satisfaction surveys, or such like. These show that things have to change in a way that everyone can understand. To prepare the organization successfully, you need to start at its core – you need to challenge the beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviors that currently define it." – Lewin's Change Model

People: Delve into the personal impact of the change on people within the organization. Secondly, acknowledge the human impact. Most people will experience some form of grief during change. Leaders need to acknowledge what their employees are losing in the change and communicate what they are gaining instead. Making sure that leaders are empathetic and their people are supported and appreciated is essential to ensure that buy-in and motivation for the change continues. If possible, leaders should learn to prioritize extra time in their schedules during change initiatives to meet one-on-one with those heavily impacted by change so the employees feel heard and supported. Leaders can learn not spend this valuable time talking, but instead listening to employees and understanding their experiences in order to integrate this into the direction of the company.

Plan: Give logistics and thorough plans surrounding the change. Explain the nuts and bolts, the timeline, the budget, compile a strategic plan outlining all the details of the change initiative and make this available to all employees. Some employees won't be onboard with the change at all until they see it has been thoroughly planned and organized. People need to see how the change will impact their personal workload and need to know they will have enough resources and enough time to handle what's being asked of them. Harvard Business Review wrote about the hard side of change management stating that soft skills like communicating vision, leadership, etc. are extremely necessary to get change off the ground, but that the change initiative will not be sustainable without the hard factors such as enough time, training, additional resources, etc. One example of examining hard factors, "Project teams must calculate how much work employees will have to do beyond their existing responsibilities to change over to new processes. Ideally, no one's workload should increase more than 10%. Go beyond that, and the initiative will probably run into trouble. Resources will become overstretched and compromise either the change program or normal operations." – The Hard Side of Change Management

Progress: Clearly and concisely outline a specific next step to drive immediate action. Those members on your team that have already bought into the change itself will get frustrated if all leaders do is talk about an upcoming change without feet on the ground movement and momentum. Make sure each and every communication about the progress of the change initiative always ends with a specific next step that employees can take to feel the momentum is continuing. Also, frequently communicating positive results during the change roll-out allows those employees that are invested to know that their hard work is paying off. Consider dedicating a screen or boards in your office to posting change initiate milestones so departments can check off completed items and receive immediate recognition of their progress.

Continue to repeat this formula – communicating purpose of the change, recognition of people, logistics and plans, and immediate next action – and your change initiatives will have the best chance of success. Not only in making your change effort a reality, but in maintaining a happy and productive staff throughout the process.

About the Author

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Jessica Beans is a researcher and facilitator specializing in group dynamics, leadership, and change management. She holds an undergraduate degree in public relations and graphic design and a masters degree in organizational leadership with an emphasis in change management and strategic innovation.

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