Changes come to life through the work and behaviors of individuals in your organization. Simply coming up with the "right" or "best" solution to an issue or opportunity is not enough to ensure that results are achieved. To deliver value, a solution must be adopted and embraced by employees. Change management, at its core, is a structured approach for bridging the gap between a great idea and tangible value to the organization. If you are only focusing on developing the "right" answer, you will not be successful at implementing lasting change in your organization.
It is a trap that many have fallen into. There is a problem or opportunity identified in the organization. A team of the best and brightest are assembled to develop a solution. Countless hours and dollars are spent on crafting the right solution. When the project team has the right solution designed, they quickly move to go live, never engaging or communicating with impacted employees. The go-live date comes, the system or process is "turned on" and no benefits are realized. Instead, there is rampant resistance, employees find workarounds and some simply ignore the change. Although the project team arrived at the "right" answer, no improvement was achieved.
How could the right solution fail to deliver results? The answer: the right answer is not enough.
Certainly it is important to come up with the right solution to an issue or opportunity facing the organization. Project teams have technical experience and expertise in identifying what needs to change, evaluating different solution alternatives, selecting the right approach, and developing a solution to meet the technical requirements of the situation. Most of the time, the team is able to create a solution that solves the technical issue or opportunity.
However, simply arriving at the "right" or "best" solution is not sufficient to ensure that performance is improved. Ultimately, changes come to life through the behaviors and work processes of individual employees.
Just having a solution that is the "right" answer does not guarantee that employees will make the necessary changes to their behaviors and work processes. Employee commitment, buy-in and adoption do not stem from the rightness of the solution - but rather from employees moving through their own change process. It takes more than the right solution to move employees out of the current state that they know and into the unknown future state.
Rightness and Resistance
Is the right answer enough to eliminate resistance to change? This is an interesting question to consider. Some project teams might think: if we just develop a great solution, there won't be resistance to change.
To understand the question, review the benchmarking data for the top reasons employees and managers resist change. Below are the results from Prosci's Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report:
Top reasons employees resist change:
Top reasons managers resist change:
None of the reasons identified by over 650 study participants from over 60 countries are related to the rightness of the solution! The top reasons for resisting a change - for both employees and managers - are not related to whether or not the solution was correct. They are rooted in how an individual employee or manager understands and experiences the change process.
If the top reasons for resisting a change are not related to whether or not the answer was right, then simply coming up with the right answer is not enough to mitigate or eliminate resistance.
What change management adds
Change management adds structure and intent for moving employees from their current state to their future state. Through effective communication, sponsorship, coaching, training and resistance management, employees are led to make the decision to get on board and support a change. Change management provides a repeatable and rigorous approach to helping individuals move forward and adopt a change to their day-to-day work - which is what enables projects to ultimately deliver results.
Take for instance, an Enterprise Resource Planning application that integrates disparate legacy data into a single platform. While it is important to architect an effective platform and technical solution, the value of having a single system comes from the individuals who input data and use that data to make decisions. Without change management, a perfectly designed Enterprise Resource Planning application will sit unused, or even potentially misused.
Employees need answers to the questions they have before adopting a change. For the most part, these questions have nothing to do with the rightness of the solution. Employees want answers to questions like:
All of these are real and ever-present questions that employees have in times of change, and none of them are related to having the "right" solution. The risk is that if a team only focuses on developing the right answer, they may ignore the people side of change and end up installing a change that delivers no benefit to the organization.
Think about a number of projects happening in your organization and evaluate the balance of focus between: developing the right solution and getting employees on board with that solution.
Key lessons for change managers:
Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.