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How to drive successful change

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Anyone trying to keep up a New Year’s resolution knows changing things isn’t easy. The same applies in business, but the rewards are well worth the huge effort needed to make change happen

If you’ve made a New Year resolution then you’ll know something about just how difficult it is to do something different and make a change in the way you live.

The drive to change – and this works for business as well as that resolution – comes directly from a ‘discontent with the present state’.

You’ve reached a place where you realise you just can’t go on any longer as you are.

Be that a need to lose weight, stop smoking or get fitter – you have to do something to improve things.

What’s tricky is delivering that change. Again this is the case with both the management of changes in a business and making sure you keep up those gym visits.

But with that resolution the only person you are committed to change it yourself, though your resolution may indeed impact others in your life.

In business – whatever the size or complexity of its structure – the task is much more complex.

In this case, hundreds of individuals, even thousands, are likely to feel the impact, and many of them will be resistant to those changes.

Because herein lies the challenge for anyone instituting major changes: on the one hand is the idea that change is inevitable, that businesses have to innovate or die.

On the other hand is the natural human reaction to be suspicious of change; the need to hang on to what is familiar, comfortable, what we know.

If you back away from this natural reluctance to change your commitment to that change will be questioned, even by those who are supporters. Like that New Year’s resolution, if you can’t stick with it, was it really that necessary after all?

 

How to drive real change  

This leads us back to that initial observation: that change comes about when there is a discontent with the current state of things; we change when there is a need to avoid pain or pursue pleasure. There is no other reason.

But what happens if the pain felt in one part of the organisation isn’t felt by another?

What if those in the C-suite simply don’t recognise the pain of those further down the organisation? How can you possibly make a case for change in the face of groups who are perfectly contented with the way things are?

How do you build a compelling argument that works for them all? Who do you turn to in order to build that argument? 

One essential is to know from the outset just what ‘success’ means. You know change is needed, but what exactly will that look like when you get there? Until you know and can define it, it’ll be almost impossibly hard to argue your case with others. You’ll just be dancing in the dark.

Let’s turn to that resolution metaphor once again.

In looking to get fit, you might well decide to invest in an exercise bike.

But that only becomes a solution when the need that drove that investment becomes clear. What does success in this case look – and even feel – like?

Unless the goal is clearly defined and understood, then it’s highly likely that you’ll eventually stop using the bike, that investment will be wasted, and there will be no change at all in your fitness levels.  

In other words, change programmes fail because the emphasis is on a solution, and not sufficiently focused on the premise for change: in short, how will the person or organisation know they have achieved successful change?

It’s all about being crystal clear about just what success looks like.

That’s why influencing those in the C-suite is so tough. You need to have thought about every single aspect of the change you are proposing. If not, they simply won’t buy into it.

They’ll only see what they are told. So unless they have all the facts, figures and arguments in detail, they are unlikely to be persuaded. 

 

Changing for the better  

The fact is that making change in business is the hardest thing you’ll ever have to attempt.

That’s not to say that making those resolutions to change in your own life can’t be scary or difficult to achieve. But when you are dealing with dozens of groups, potentially thousands of individuals, then that challenge becomes magnified.

It needs influencing skills, tenacity, focus, rigour and almost constant communication and engagement. But unless we commit to change our organisations will stagnate. It really is a case of change or die.

The good news is that even if it is hard work, the end results can be truly amazing.   

In recognition of just how tough such issues are we created a podcasts series, The Human Factor, in which we talk to leading experts about the topics and themes that influence people and the world of work.

Among them is the topic of change, the skills and techniques you need. The whole catalogue of episodes is available right here.

You might be struggling with that New Year’s resolution, but you’re just one click away from some potentially career – and organisation – changing insights.

 

Michael Esau is global HR advisor at SAP

To find out more about how technology and forward thinking you help you to answer the vital questions which your business needs to address, contact SAP here.  

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