How to Mobilize Change

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Having worked in the corporate sector for the past 10 years on different types of change initiatives and having experienced the changes that take place, there were many models and frameworks which I have come across. One of the most most useful model is a model from McKinsey which describes the 4 levers of change.

What are some examples of organisational changes?

  • Creating a learning culture in the company
  • Implementing a company wide IT system such as an ERP system like SAP or equivalents that will change the way many of the work processes in the company is carried out, from sales, customer services, procurement, operations, financial processes, etc.
  • Outsourcing some of the company support functions such as payroll, IT, etc.

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1. Leaders at all levels as role models

The first and most important role is the formal leadership role, i.e. leadership of the top person and top leadership team as well as the middle managers, up to every supervisor in the organization. In any change mobilization effort, how much they believe in the change and how they respond to the change effort will determine how aligned the rest of the people are to the change effort. I have seen many change efforts that run into problems because some supervisors and managers do not agree with the some of the changes proposed. We typically call this resistance 🙂 The way to deal with it is to embrace the challenge by those who seem to oppose. Engage  them to understand what their concern is about. Then work to deal with the concern by highlighting the benefits of the change. Sometimes the change results in more perceived work by one party over another. In such situations the higher level manager needs to be engaged if required to explain the decision to take a higher level or enterprise view of the change.

If all levels of leaders do not model the new desired behaviors, it is highly unlikely their people will buy into the change as well. It’s therefore important to engage the middle managers either through periodic sessions throughout the change or hold the senior leaders accountable by holding regular sessions with their managers and to feedback their thoughts on any potential issues or how aligned they feel their part of the business is to the change.

2. Case for change – why change?

The second lever is to articulate a compelling case for change. This is normally a starting point before embarking on the change. While this may be clear to top management, the rest of the company do not know about it or may not have a good appreciation of the need for change. Think about it -if someone else asks us to change, the first question on everyone’s mind is “Why Change?”. If you ask me to exercise more frequently, you need to tell me why it is a good thing to do or the downsides of not exercising. So either focus on the benefits of the change or the downsides and danger of not changing. So, craft a compelling case for change, communicate it again and again at different forums and platforms and take questions – address any concerns, create FAQs and make it easily accessible for people. Get leaders at all levels to communicate the case for change and address any questions.

3. Systems, structures, rewards and processes , social support

I call this the Environmental lever. In order to motivate change, change the environment or tweak the environment to encourage the behaviors or changes we want to promote. The environment has a huge effect on changing behaviors.

Why do teenagers like to study at Starbucks or at public libraries? It’s because they enjoy the environment at these places. It’s the interaction of fellow friends or the social vibe of the place that lessens or eliminates the “boredom” of studying by themselves. A library full of books and knowledge could also be inspiring for the studying process.

New York’s Grand Central terminal station used to be a place where rampant crime takes place. When mayor Rudy Giuliani took over, he installed high quality audio equipment there and played classical music like Mozart all day long – guess what? The crime rate dropped 33%! The soothing music must have influenced the propensity for criminal behavior somehow.

Does the team structure or some parts of the organization structure need to be tweaked to better support or align to the change? Do certain roles need to be created or changed? Should the performance management process and criteria be modified to encourage new behaviors? Do we need to institute any supporting process to institutionalise the change?

I would add Social support under this lever although it is absent from McKinsey’s model. How can people support each other and be supported by the organization as they adopt the new behaviors or way of working? Could there be regular gatherings as people undergo the change to support each other and learn from each other?

The social support or people support can be seen in the light of stakeholder management as well. Identify key stakeholders who has high influence and impact on the organisation. Engage them. Find out what their interests are, their motivations and address them and align them as much as possible to the change effort.

Social support can take the form of social pressure to change as well. If others around you start to change and you are the odd one out, chances are you will start to change as well. To create social pressure, ask individuals to share what each is going to do differently as a result of the change – this builds accountability into the process – once an individual tells someone else he/she is going to do something, he/she will feel greater social pressure to live up to what is said.

4.  Skills – how to change 

The forth lever looks at equipping people with the skills to change. This is about providing training and learning support to help people adopt the new way of behaving. This usually takes the form of learning events or workshops to equip the different groups of people at different levels of the organization. Motivation theory that apart from addressing the “is it worth it to change?” (addressed by the Case for change lever), we have to address the “how do I change” question. Providing people will the skills of how to change will motivate the change. The important factor to keep in mind is to give feedback as new skills are learnt so that people know if they are doing it right.