Change and Expectations – Steps Towards Sustainability

Mark J. Komen, President

Kodyne, Inc.

Plymouth, MN.

I’ve written in the past about change in organizations.  In my article Change – Put it in Play, I discussed three components to change:

   Motivation – providing the reason for change

   Commitment – providing the accountability

   Execution – providing the results


I believe we need to add something else to the framework – and that’s setting clear expectations about what needs to happen and what outcomes are required from the process.  How many times have you heard about (or experienced) corporate leaders mandating changes but then things either never launch or fizzle out quietly and disappear?  As part of the commitment component – especially in an organizational context, setting clear expectations that the process will commence, will be monitored, will be adjusted and that people will be held accountable to it is vitally important.

Expectations may take many forms.  Consider this list – to support our change initiative, we expect staff to:

  •       Constructively participate in change process and problem solving sessions
  •       Be honest and open about making contributions
  •       Adopt any new policies and procedures that support the eventual outcomes
  •       Give verbal support to the process and learning
  •       Assist those who are struggling with the process
  •       Look for ways to make the process successful

Note that all of these involve behaviors.  So conversely, it’s important to come up with a list of behaviors you DON’T want that will kill the process.  Change process killers include:

  •      Bad-mouthing the process
  •      Saying you’re on board but choosing not to participate
  •      Working against those who are supporting the process
  •      Keeping workable ideas to yourself
  •      Finding and justifying reasons not to participate

The challenge for an organization’s leadership is being willing and able to reinforce the positive behaviors they DO want and addressing those they don’t want.  Some folks are uncomfortable with change and need support and encouragement to adopt it.  Coaching them through the change can be a very effective approach to get them on board and getting them involved in the process is a great way to enlist their support.  Talking with them about their resistance may open up a useful dialogue that surfaces the needs for additional training, changing the way things are done that affect their jobs, acknowledging unspoken fears and concerns, and maybe even soliciting new ideas that they had been holding back.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t work with everyone.

Leaders must be willing to go beyond dialogue and coaching where people still resist or work against the changes.  They must be willing and able to confront the negative behaviors and to make demands of those working against the change process.  Quite frankly, where successfully implementing organizational change initiatives are essential to the on-going survival of the organization, those who are actively working against them need to understand they have a choice: they can support the changes and be involved in the process or leave the organization.  In other words, there are consequences for their actions.

Sometimes this is the step needed to move the organization forward without encumbrances or distractions and to stave off recession back to the way things were.  I have seen time and again where one individual refuses to support the change process, is able to influence others to work against the needed changes or to suppress and inhibit others from supporting them.  Moving these folks out of the organization was necessary for the change process to succeed.

One of my recent consulting engagements involved performing a culture assessment at a division of a Fortune 500 company.  It became very obvious that one highly placed manager did not fit with what the organization wanted for a culture that would maximize their effectiveness.  Where the company wanted to move to a culture of collaboration, creativity and achievement, this manager had long used bullying and abrasive behavior to intimidate others.  This only served to spread fear amongst the staff and others interfacing with that manager’s department and made the staff reluctant to bring useful ideas to the table.  This person actively resisted the change process with words and actions that cost the company credibility with the staff and the rest of the organization.  Executive management painfully concluded that this person’s behavior far outweighed their technical contributions and terminated them.  In doing so, the leadership sent the messages that the change process was important, they would confront negative behavior, and if you don’t fit the new culture, you will be asked to leave.  With the fear gone, things improved tremendously at that company in many ways following this action.

So setting expectations is crucial to the success of change initiatives.  Giving people the tools to succeed, working with them to overcome barriers and maybe even encouraging them to innovate are some of the necessary components for changes to take root and be sustainable.  For some, the answer may involve re-assigning them to other jobs in the organization they are capable of doing.  For those who refuse to be on board, they are, by default, choosing to leave.  Management may have to help them realize this and move them out to the benefit of all.


Copyright 2010. Kodyne, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide