The 3 Es of change

Hello world!
October 22, 2018
Reinvent While You Are Still Successful
November 20, 2018

To prevent an organisational change initiative from losing steam, it is important to follow a systematic process.

To prevent an organisational change initiative from losing steam, it is important to follow a systematic process.

Talk to any CEO about his/her priorities for the organisation and change management is likely to figure in the top three. Despite the criticality of change, it is equally evident that many organisational change initiatives begin with a flourish, but fade out with a whimper. What does it take to sustain a successful programme of change?

Jonathan Haight, in his book The Happiness Hypothesis, identifies three critical components of sustainable change at an individual level. Put simply, this can be stated as:

Execution: What are the concrete steps and milestones to change. Where do we begin? How do we know that we are on the right track?

Emotion: Habit change is difficult, because in the absence of deep, emotional commitment to change, inertia and the desire to stick to the tried and trusted, take over. How do we create and sustain buy in for large scale change projects?

Environment: This does not refer to only the physical environment, but the tools for communication and collaboration, the incentives and recognition mechanisms for specific desired behaviours that support change.

Let us take a look at an example, which translates this to a corporate setting. The CEO of a multinational company wished to make his company less hierarchical, and create a culture of open and honest feedback.

Execution: In this case, there were two critical first steps. It began with the CEO articulating his intent to the organisation, creating a simple mechanism by which every employee could reach him directly and personally demonstrating the culture he wished to create. He abandoned the practice of senior executives having lunch in their own cabins, and started going to the company cafeteria for lunch. This in turn meant that he could converse with executives across levels, and powerfully demonstrate the culture he wanted to set.

He then get his top 45 managers into a room, to create a set of seven behaviours that they would all agree to demonstrate. Each of these leaders was personally responsible for demonstrating these behaviours to the rest of the organisation, and in turn cascading these behaviours to the next t level of leaders.

Emotion: Simple demonstrations like the abolition of reserved parking spaces go a long way in convincing the employees that senior management is authentic about change. In reinforcing desired behaviours, storytelling plays an important role. In this specific case, relatable movie clips from popular Hindi movies were used to communicate the values in a relatable way.

Stories about specific behaviours and their impact can go a long way, and internal social media vehicles (like a collaborative intranet) can be used to bring stories to the fore.

Demonstrable mechanisms also go a long way. In this case, the company institutionalised a mechanism called the hot seat. In every top management meeting, one senior manager would be chosen to receive public 360 degree feedback from all his peers. He would then list down a few actions he planned to take on the ‘hot seat’ feedback. The fact that business leaders were the first to volunteer for the hot seat, did a lot to create emotional buy in.

Environment: The change initiative needs to be aggressively marketed, just like a brand or campaign. Visible reminders and posters become noticeable in every element of the workplace. The presence of these reminders is reinforcing, and self policing is often the most effective monitoring tool. Simple, visible, demonstrations can be aggressively driven through the environment.

Finally, most of us have a strong value system which was acquired from the family environment. The irony is that our parents never needed a written down value system to do this. We learnt our values through powerful day to day demonstration in good times and bad. The same is true in business. People follow what you do, and not what you say. In the ultimate analysis, leaders must walk the talk. It is as simple – and as difficult – as that.

By Ranjan Banerjee, CEO, Renaissance Strategic Consultants