Change is an ever-present business theme. But, if you Google ‘what percentage of change initiatives fail?’, the answer is 70%, with little sign of improvement.
I’ve worked on change programmes for many years; some triumphs, and some disasters. I’ve learned that successful change is only achieved when the people it affects buy-in to the programme and the outcomes.
Management sometimes believes that buy-in is achieved by communicating (telling, talking down, dictating) the programme and outcomes they created in splendid isolation to those affected. This can cause people to disengage or resist; driven by their lack of belief in the programme, or in the underlying reasons for the change.
So, how can this all-important buy-in be achieved?
For the last 20 years, every successful change initiative I’ve driven for clients started by harnessing the collective wisdom of those likely to be affected by the potential change programme. The act of asking for, acknowledging and acting upon their contribution clearly sent out the message that ‘We value your opinion; we value you’, creating that essential ‘buy-in’, and delivering a surge in discretionary effort.
How do I know this works?
I first used this approach 20 years ago, when I inherited an ‘at risk’ account and a team of more than 50 people. I got them together for the evening (free beer and food) and harnessed their collective wisdom (>200 man-years on the account) to identify ways to turn the account around. Eighteen months later we won sole supplier status. A global partner engagement initiative for McAfee identified improvements that drove 86% growth (c. $23m). A more recent case involved harnessing the collective wisdom of 250 people (>2,500 man-years in the business) across EMEA to clarify and quantify the changes needed to turn around their underperforming business. Twelve months later they were the top-performing region globally, and the heroes of the business.
How does it work?
These days, ‘harnessing collective wisdom’ takes two weeks, delivered online using a business 360 (like a personal 360, but about business). In most cases, it’s one I’ve previously developed, sometimes a bespoke one developed for a specific situation. All 360s follow the 5 level CMM (Capability Maturity Model) principle.
The pre-developed/off-the-shelf 360s are primarily focused on sales effectiveness, business growth, major accounts (supplier and customer perspective), alliances or partner engagement (both parties), and bidding.
When a bespoke 360 is required, I work with the client to define and agree on the scope and desired outcomes, then create a model that is fit-for-purpose, drawing on my vast library of existing questions and experience.
The client sends the 360 to everyone in their business, stressing the importance of their individual (anonymous) contribution. To enable meaningful interpretation of the data when producing the outputs, the 360 captures the contributor’s job role, tenure, location if relevant, and other agreed variables.
How will the outputs help to drive successful change?
Primarily, they enable the identification, with absolute certainty, of the elements which must be prioritised in the change initiative, and the reasons why using both quantitative data (the levels of maturity measured as 0% to 100%) and the qualitative data (the contributor’s comments accompanying their scoring). Incredibly powerful insights.
What happens next?
The next action is critical; completing the circle by communicating the findings, conclusions and next actions to the contributors, demonstrating that ‘We’ve heard what you said and this is our response’. The level of buy-in and discretionary effort this delivers is immeasurable. By repeating the process every six months, everyone remains engaged in measuring progress, and is reminded that ‘We value your opinion; we value you’.
Could this approach work for your organisation?
I strongly believe that the 70% figure would be seriously under threat if more people adopted this approach. See if it could work for you. Multiply the number of people potentially affected by their years of experience to quantify the scale of collective wisdom at your disposal. Then ask yourself if you can afford not to empower this resource – as the alternative is often that this same resource will resist the change. I hope you’re persuaded? If you remain unconvinced, or simply want to know more, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.