The cocktail for successful and sustainable change processes

Imagine walking with a group of hikers in the Peruvian Andes. The challenging hiking trail takes you through unknown landscapes, past breathtaking natural formations and impressive steep slopes. However, the guide is only focused on how far it is to the next hut or waterhole and what or how much water and food there is. The beauty of the landscape literally falls by the wayside. Through this choice of themes you will experience the hike, as exciting as it may be, as less exciting or meaningful. The experience would be completely different, if the guide, according to your mood and needs, deals with the beauties and dangers of the travelled landscape and enthuses about upcoming sights.

 

The experience of the fictitious wandering group has much in common with the perception of change & digital transformation in organizations. According to the Boston Consulting Group, over 85% of companies say they are currently in a transformation process. Only just under 30% of change projects achieve their goals.

 

Why is that?

Most change measures in organizations deal with the structure. For example, it concerns the adaptation of processes, guidelines, technologies, acquisition and merchandise management systems. Equally important, however, is the internal change, i.e. the change in the inner attitudes, feelings and thoughts of the employees. It is usually the organizational psychological factors (attitudes, corporate culture, values) that determine the success or failure of a change process. True to the motto: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast" (Peter Drucker).

 

The strong focus on the factual level is not surprising psychologically. In unclear situations people like to rely on seemingly tangible things in the form of logical goals, processes or measurable KPIs. Adapting the business model or switching to new systems in a changed market is undoubtedly important. But what is often forgotten and sometimes deliberately ignored is the personal ("I") and collective ("We") level of change.​

Change cannot be decreed top-down

The goal must be for those involved to recognize the meaning and purpose of change. Studies have shown that a work activity perceived as meaningful, including the implementation of a change process, contributes to a better engagement with the task, higher motivation and job satisfaction as well as stress reduction and ultimately higher life satisfaction (Ihmels, 2014).

Which factors favour a successful transformation?

Managers play a central role in change processes. They must give their team members an answer to the "why and wherefore", even if they do not ask for it. Eliminating these sources of uncertainty and creating an inspiring picture of the future by approaching change openly and positively is the real guarantee of success. It is also important that employees have the opportunity to influence change. No matter how small the influence may be. Participation creates cooperation, acceptance and commitment. 

 

Answer the questions of your employees

The employee asks herself what does the change mean for me? She would like to know how the changes in her area of responsibility show themselves, how she can influence them and why the change makes sense. The team asks itself, what does the change mean for us? They want to know exactly what is necessary for the change, whether the team composition or the team task is changing, why this is so and what the benefit for the team is. Answer such questions in discussion rounds, in which you will also identify the opinion leaders in the teams and then reduce their scepticism in individual discussions. However, you should remain as honest and realistic as possible. You can support these measures through open corporate communication (e.g. monthly change wrap-ups), in which you inform your employees about the latest developments.

Dimensions of organizational change

If you create a matrix based on the information we have so far, four dimensions can be represented:

Abbildung 1: Dimensionen ganzheitlicher, erfolgreicher Veränderungsprozesse i.A.a. Ken Wilber

The components of a cocktail for successful and sustainable change processes can be derived from these dimensions: 

 

  • For structural adjustments (quadrants 2&3) to succeed, they must be accompanied by psychological measures (quadrants 1&4).

  • At the employee level (individual), the goal should be that internal attitudes promote change and do not block it. This can be achieved by the role model function of the executives and the pro-active answering of central questions.

  • In order to "bring the collective on board", the triad of values, vision and meaningfulness should first be worked out together, e.g. through group discussions, training sessions and feedback rounds. This creates clarity about the behaviour and processes necessary for implementation.​

"The fact that many organizations deal primarily with the visible, outer level not only in change but in general and almost criminally neglect the inner level is shown, among other things, by their formulation of the corporate purpose: this is often defined exclusively as the sustainable achievement of maximum profit for the shareholders. Such a technocratic view of the company completely neglects the relevant human and psychological aspects of management, with corresponding consequences". (Gardener, 2019)

 

If we now take the guide mentioned at the beginning, who leads your group through the Andes, we would have used psychological coaching (or similar) at the first hut. After the strengthening he gathers the group and asks how you felt and perceived the first stage. He inquires with the wanderers whether there were stations where you were afraid or would like to know more about the landscape around you. The participants gradually present their themes, while the guide puts their fears into perspective and explains the panoramas on the participants' photos afterwards. He also gives an outlook on the next few hours and encourages walkers to ask questions and express concerns at any time. Before leaving, he orders a non-alcoholic cocktail for all participants, which you enjoy together before continuing.

Raphael Herkommer

Business Psychologist Die CONUFACTUR