Great to see McKinsey bringing to our attention a series of "classic" articles - the most recent being a seminal 2003 article about the need to consider psychological factors in achieving major organisational change.
How often have we seen real need for organisational change - particularly in the midst of the internet era, global financial crises etc - yet despite this obvious need the big workforces just can't seem to change to help themselves.
The McKinsey article reports that - for change to occur:
- employees have to have a purpose to believe in (so they can understand the role their new actions will have, so that their contributions make sense and they have something to believe in - failing this cognitive dissonance will set in ie "why am I doing this - really!")
- employees' rewards have to be consistent with the behaviours required once the change has happened (eg there is no point exclusively rewarding sales revenue performance if the firm's strategy is to lead in positive customer experience - if great customer experience will lead to competitive advantage and hence revenue, just reinforce giving good experiences - the revenues will come!)
- give employees the skills they need to behave differently (and don't do this just by sticking them in a classroom - checkout Kolb's work on 4 phase adult learning)
- provide consistent role models (ie walk the talk).
This is all good - but I think it ignores a powerful human foible.
We need to perceive a crisis to really move out of our comfort zone and change!
How often have we heard stories about people adopting a healthy lifestyle only AFTER they've had some life threatening illness or episode?
The same applies in sales - the successful Solution Selling methodology tells us that, unless we can find a problem that customers urgently need fixing, then there will be no sale.
If we turn to the gurus of change management - in particular thought leader John P. Kotter - we'll see in his Eight-Stage Process of Creating Major Change that the very first step is to create a sense or ugency - "identifying and discussing crises, potential crises, or major opportunities".
So - given all of this - how do we get the organisation to change for the better BEFORE any crisis hits? This is one of the key skills of the leader. An open and transparent approach to the organisation, explaining the opportunity that can be achieved - and then motivating everyone to change direction BEFORE the crisis hits. Core leadership skills here - being able to paint a concrete picture of where the oragnisation is heading and what the pitfalls will be; again painting a picture of the opportunity that lies in the alternate direction, and importantly what it means for everyone in the organisation.
But - despite best leadership efforts - not everyone will want to "step on board". In fact this "on board" metaphor is a core element in going from "Good to Great", as espoused by Jim Collins - although interestingly if we follow his blueprint in becoming a "great" company, we'll actually get the "right" people on the bus - and ONLY THEN we'll figure out the best path to greatness. "First who - than what." Jim actually disagrees with the concept of creating change via crisis: Companies that make the change from good to great have no name for their transformation—and absolutely no program. They neither rant nor rave about a crisis—and they don't manufacture one where none exists. They don't “motivate” people—their people are self-motivated.
So - what's your plan to change your organisation for the better? Do you have the right people on the bus? Irrespective of who's on the bus - if you're looking to instittue change, are you giving people a sense of urgency to change their ways?
It's tough at the top......