Becoming agile requires changeWaterfall organizations didn’t get where they are overnight and won't change overnight. For some organizations, decades of forming habits, establishing and protecting fiefdoms, and reinforcing a traditional mindset are engrained. The organizational structure will require some type of change, the leadership will need to learn a new way of looking at developing people and empowering them to do their work, and those doing the work will have to learn to work together and manage themselves in ways that may feel foreign.
Organizational change initiatives typically fail without a strategy and discipline. Here, we define failure as not reaching the desired end state goal of what the organization will look like after the change. Failure is often due to being unclear as to the goal or because the change plan doesn’t address the highest risk factors and challenges impeding the desired change.
Lewin's change philosophyKurt Lewin was an innovator in social and organizational psychology in the 1940s and established a cornerstone model for understanding effective organizational change. Most modern change models are based on this philosophy, which is unfreeze — change — refreeze, as illustrated.
If you want to change the shape of a cube of ice, you first have to change it from its existing frozen state to liquid so that it can be changed or reshaped, then mold the liquid into the new shape you want, then put it through a solidification process to form the new shape. Unfreezing is implied between the first two states in the figure, and the changes made are implied during the unfrozen state.
UnfreezeThe first stage represents the preparation needed before change can take place — challenging existing beliefs, values, and behaviors. Reexamination and seeking motivation for a new equilibrium is what leads to participation and buy-in for meaningful change.
ChangeThe next stage involves uncertainty and resolving that uncertainty to do things a new way. This transitional stage represents the formation of new beliefs, values, and behaviors. Time and communication are the keys to seeing the changes begin to take effect.
RefreezeAs people embrace new ways, confidence and stability increase, and the change starts to take shape into a solid new process, structure, belief system, or set of behaviors.
This simple pattern provides the foundation for most change management tools and frameworks.
ADKAR’s 5 steps to changeProsci is one of the leading organizations in change management and benchmarking research. One of Prosci’s change management tools, ADKAR, is an acronym for the five outcomes (awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement) individuals and organizations need to achieve for successful change. It is a goal-oriented model for individuals, and a focus model for the discussions and actions organizations need to take together.
Organizational changes still require change for individuals, so the secret to success is affecting change for everyone involved.
ADKAR outlines the individual’s successful journey through change. The five steps of the journey also each align with organizational change activities. Typically, these steps are completed in the order listed, but a non-linear approach is realistic in our experience. You may need to readdress previous steps multiple times as you progress through each step.
AwarenessHumans find change difficult. When change initiatives come top-down in an organization, people may verbally agree to them, but their actions tell a different story. Mismatch of actions and words is usually innocent and natural. Without awareness, or an understanding of the factors influencing management’s desire to change, or especially without a recognition that something should change, individuals will not be motivated to change. Informing the individuals in an organization, helping them have a shared understanding of the challenges that exist, and then assessing whether awareness is common constitute the first step to successful, lasting change. It is the basis, without which the initiative won’t make progress.
DesireBased on their awareness of a challenge needing to be addressed, individuals will have an opinion on whether or not change is necessary or desired to address it. Making the connection between the awareness of an issue and what could or should be done about it is the next step. Once desire exists for the individuals in an organization, there is motivation to move together to change.
KnowledgeDesire is key, but it won’t result in change by itself. Knowledge of how to make the change and where each individual fits into the change make up the next crucial part of the change process. Individuals throughout the organization need to understand what the changes mean for them, and leadership needs to facilitate education and actions in a cooperative way across the organization. Knowledge often comes from expanding understanding and skills through training and coaching.
AbilityWith new knowledge of how to change, implementation requires acquiring skills, redefining roles, and clearly defining new performance expectations. Other commitments may need to be delayed or replaced with new behaviors or responsibilities. Continued coaching and mentoring may be required, and leadership needs to be clear that this reprioritization of commitments is expected and encouraged.
ReinforcementChanges don’t stick after one successful iteration. New behaviors, skills, and processes must be reinforced through continued corrective action and coaching to ensure that old habits don’t return.
The ADKAR model surrounds these steps with assessments and action plans to guide leaders and individuals through their change journey. ADKAR should be used iteratively, using scrum, inspecting and adapting each step.
Kotter’s 8 steps for leading changeJohn Kotter’s eight-step process for leading change identifies eight common but preventable reasons why organizations fail at their change initiatives, and addresses each with actions that should be taken to successfully lead change:
- Create a sense of urgency: The leadership action is to create a sense of urgency to pull people out of complacency. People get used to the status quo, and learn to deal with it. Helping others see the need for change requires the creation of a sense of urgency for change. Leaders must communicate the importance of immediate action.
- Build a guiding coalition: The leadership action is to build a guiding coalition. Successful change will require more than just one active supporter, even if that one person is at the highest level of the organization. Executives, directors, managers, and even informal social leaders with influence need to be unified in the need for and vision of a change. This coalition must be formed and drive the change.
- Form a strategic vision and initiatives: Kotter estimates that leadership under-communicates the vision for change by as much as 1,000 times. Even if people are unhappy with the status quo, they won’t always make sacrifices for a change unless they believe in the proposed benefits and that change is possible. As a change coalition, clearly define how the future is different from the past and present, as well as the steps to make that future a reality. Change management also needs to begin with a clear vision of where you’re headed.
- Enlist a volunteer army: The leadership action is to enlist a volunteer army. Change will accelerate and last if massive numbers of people buy in and are internally driven. As a result of leadership’s effective communication of vision and need, people should rally around a cause they come to believe in. If they don’t rally, reevaluate your messaging, tone, and frequency.
- Enable action by removing barriers: The leadership action is to remove barriers to action. Some obstacles may be only perceived, but others are real. However, both must be overcome. One blocker in the “right” place can be the single reason for failure. Many people tend to avoid confronting obstacles (processes, hierarchies, working across silos), so leadership must act as servant-leaders to identify and remove impediments that are reducing the empowerment of individuals implementing the changes on the front lines.
- Generate short-term wins: The leadership action is to generate short-term wins. The end transformation goal usually can’t be achieved in the short term, so fatigue can set in for everyone involved if successes and progress go unrecognized along the way. Evidence of change should be highlighted and exposed early and regularly. This reinforcement increases morale through difficult times of change, and motivates and encourages continued efforts and progress.
- Sustain acceleration: The leadership action is to sustain acceleration. Celebrating short-term wins sets a false sense of security that change is complete. Each success should build on the previous success. Push on, and push on harder after each success, with increased confidence and credibility. Continue to overcommunicate the vision throughout the transformation.
- Institute change: The leadership action is to institute change. Leadership will have the opportunity throughout the change process to connect successes and new behaviors with the culture's evolution and growing strength to keep old habits from returning. These connections should be recognized openly and made visible to everyone as soon as successes and new behaviors are realized.