(By Patricia Cotton)
“When I looked at analyzing corporate turning points, I first focused on the path toward change. This relates to finding new alternatives to the existing state of affairs or the status quo. In general, a corporation changes when a leader identifies a clear need to evolve, whether reactively, because of competition or market regulations for example, or proactively, when decisions such as cost cutting and management replacement moves are taken. From deciding upon a change strategy and moving to it’s implementation, leaders will usually plan how, when and by whom it will be done. So, after an opportunity is recognized, they must consider aspects such as readiness, barriers to change and expected relapses.“
I wish I was the one who originally voiced Charles Darwin’s famous insight that said it’s neither the strongest nor the most intelligent of the species that survive but those which are most adaptable to change.
Even though change is a constant in business, I have always had the impression that, somehow, corporations and their leaders disregard some very relevant aspects of this process, especially the crucial power of human emotions. In any attempt at corporate change, people’s perceptions and feelings are pivotal. Bold business strategies and carefully-prepared Power Point slides don’t matter if people don’t embrace the ideas organically. So here are some burning questions regarding business transformation: How can change conquer resistance and the power of inertia? And, even more importantly, how can we possibly maintain our integrity and purpose, when change is all about adapting?
To establish a solid link between change management and the relevant influence of psychology over the behavior of people and businesses, I embarked on a global journey to interview top CEOs and other organizational experts on this subject. From my encounters with Ward Klein (Energizer’s CEO) to Sidney Levy (CEO of Rio 2016), several Silicone Valley leaders and many others, I was able to identify common behavior patterns and reach some conclusions on how adaptive one must be to succeed in change moves.
When I looked at analyzing corporate turning points, I first focused on the path toward change. This relates to finding new alternatives to the existing state of affairs or the status quo. In general, a corporation changes when a leader identifies a clear need to evolve, whether reactively, because of competition or market regulations for example, or proactively, when decisions such as cost cutting and management replacement moves are taken. From deciding upon a change strategy and moving to it’s implementation, leaders will usually plan how, when and by whom it will be done. So, after an opportunity is recognized, they must consider aspects such as readiness, barriers to change and expected relapses.
The most sensitive aspect of this process, however, is that between a change intention and a desired future state are people. Within this premise, any new strategy should be followed by an emotional link and reward for employees, investors, suppliers and other stakeholders. The structure of the organization is unimportant as is whether decisions are taken top down or bottom up, horizontally or vertically. In any of these cases, people have to be in an emotional state of mind to enable change to happen in an effective and sustainable way. Considering that employees specifically are emotionally motivated for higher order goals, it’s important to be precise and act accordingly, showing through actions what’s important to the company.
Another important aspect that I looked at is the ‘make it public’ part of change strategy. Leaders must be ready to deal with the high price of doubt, which eventually comes together with fear of failure and also, ironically, fear of success. In this sensitive moment, it is important to stick to the initial plan by restoring self-confidence, finding comfort within uncertainty and having patience and perseverance to pursue change.
One of my findings is that optimism, risk-taking and self-confidence are extremely beneficial as change drivers. These qualities are predominant among CEOs, who are more ambitious, focused and competitive than the average person. Another interesting aspect that was clearly present in my interviewees’ speeches is what modern psychology calls “ego-resiliency”. This might be described as a high capacity to overcome, steer through, or bounce back from adversity, through an ongoing learning process.
In a nutshell, managing change is not sexy, it is laborious, since it is hardly a painless process. Those who will truly be successful are the ones who take a chance, potentially fail, but dust themselves off and try again. They do not forget the experiences they gain in getting there. As the French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson said, “to exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly”. So don’t believe too many of your own headlines and stay open.
Change management takeaways:
1) Telling is not selling: To change business, it is vital to change people first, by dealing with doubts and managing emotions.
2) No brain, no gain: The more and the better you plan, the faster and more efficient the execution will be.
3) Don’t be too greedy: Prioritize the change topics but don’t over-do them.
4) Focus, focus and focus: Discipline is the basis for audacious moves, since changing requires persistence and consistency over time.
5) People are always key: In order to be really effective, change management must engage with internal resistance and with external formal and informal institutional and structural constraints.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”