How Change is Changing

Peter Buytaert

Todays Volatile Uncertain Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world demands that companies change business processes and continually rethink their business models to survive in their markets. Change management is changing to become a powerful source of competitive advantage and business performance.

The change process itself though requires a change to complement well known rational change models like the Kotter eight step change model and the GE Change Acceleration Process (CAP). In an article in Todays Manager we advise that leaders at companies starting a transformation should put a priority on finding efficient and scalable ways to engage and motivate employees to make them more receptive to change. Leading change means ultimately changing behaviors and people need to be encouraged to do so! A rational process map alone is not sufficient.

From our consulting experience we observe six critical components for a change initiative to be effective and efficient:

1. The pressure why change is needed must be clearly articulated and made aware not only in the C-Suite but throughout the organization. We repeatedly experience that once the pressure message leaves the top layers of an organization it not only gets diluted but lost in existing comfort zones.

2. Change leaders themselves need to be aware of their emotional response to change and adopt before they can lead it. It is not uncommon for change leadership to still be in denial about how change will ultimately affect them while already advocating change to their teams.

3. Success of the change project must be well defined and shared with a common vision of what needs to be achieved preferably described in language that touches people who want to contribute to the new reality needed.

4. The change decisions and execution process need to be recognized as being fair. In essence this means options have been explored explanations given and success defined and rewarded.

5. Change leaders need to establish a culture of trust where people are encouraged to explore and have space to practice change without fear of failure. Trust also implies that change leaders walk the talk and make decisions and guard their execution aligned with the vision and values they stand for.

6. Rather than sharing revenue goals market shares and contribution margin improvements employees need to be motivated by whats in it for them. In a nutshell that includes how they belong and fit in the future state learn new competencies or make a difference with their contributions. These focus areas are also based on insights by Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter who identifies the three main people motivators as: Meaning (for the individual) Mastery (personal development) and Membership (belonging).[1]

Our field findings are supported by a survey of 2314 executives by McKinsey in 2010[2] which led to the conclusion that companies that undertake transformational change have to succeed at the basics such as creating clear stretching targets and defining a clear structure but they will be more successful by also focusing on their employees’ mind-sets and behavior.

Dealing with these six critical success factors more than ever requires change leaders to develop high levels of self-awareness and empathy while sensing intuitively what lives in the organization to resist or move change forward.

Rational change processes and tools are a necessary component but need to be complemented with the fore-mentioned non rational (humane) factors for change to occur and be successful.


[2] McKinsey & Company What successful transformations share: McKinsey Global Survey results March 2010.