Organizational Development Consultant and Leadership Coach

Sustainable Change

The 4 Phases of Sustainable Change

4 Phases of Sustainable Change

5 Critical Success Factors of Sustainable Change

Change is an intrinsic part of corporate life. Despite its pervasive presence, however, change rarely goes smoothly and rarely achieves its expected results.

Having been in the business of transformational change for over 20 years, I’ve learned that there are five critical factors that lead to successful change.

1. A sound rationale for change

People need reasons to change. And the reasons must create enough dissonance between the ‘way it is’ and the ‘way it will be’ that it makes people willing to risk the move.

To ensure your reasons are motivating:

  • Articulate your reasons for the change. Describe the current situation, why it is unacceptable, what you envision for the future, and the benefits of the change.
  • Test your ideas with different stakeholder groups
  • Create a plan for communicating the anticipated changes, including audiences, communication channels, timing and frequency

2. Stakeholder support

A stakeholder is anyone who has a stake in the expected results of the change. Customers, suppliers, employees, unions, other departments, functions and regions are all stakeholders. Often times, the impact on these stakeholder groups is not considered, and this oversight usually results in enough resistance to diminish the success of the change or sabotage it completely.

To gain stakeholder support:

  • Determine which stakeholders (individuals or groups) will be impacted by the change
  • Share your rationale and plans for the change
  • Identify and discuss their issues and concerns before the change is set in stone.
  • Define ways to proactively address those issues and concerns
  • Update your plans to meet stakeholder requirements

On some occasions, you may need to modify your original plan, but the likelihood of success will be greatly improved.

3. A clear and practical implementation plan

Without effective implementation, your ideas will remain only ideas. Even miniscule changes need at least a few actions to make them a reality. At the very least, identify, agree and communicate the steps to implementing the change, i.e. who does what by when. With bigger changes, it is best to take a project based approach to implementation.

In cases of complex and large scale change:

  • Establish a charter describing the scope, deliverables, budget and resource requirements
  • Appoint a project manager and implementation team
  • Communicate your intentions to the wider organization
  • Look for quick wins to build momentum
  • Track progress and results

4. Appropriate support structures

A change implemented is not necessarily a change that is sustainable.

Sustainable change requires that:

  • The individuals and teams involved have the skills and expertise required to do their jobs
  • The required technology is in place to make the change practical and time efficient
  • Relevant business processes are streamlined and clearly communicated
  • Organizational culture and behaviors allow the change to become reality
  • Progress and results of the change are tracked and communicated
  • Rewards and recognition are aligned with new priorities and requirements

To ensure that your change becomes a lasting reality, take the time to identify the issues which will be out of alignment with your new change and proactively address them.

5. Credible and visible leadership

The leader sponsoring the change needs to be seen as credible to each of the stakeholder groups, and be visible in his/her leadership throughout each phase of the change ‘life cycle’.

Before the decision is taken:

  • Understand and meet with stakeholder groups
  • Describe the need for change and why this change was decided

During the transition time:

  • Ask for regular updates on project progress
  • Personally address issues blocking the change as required

After the change is implemented:

  • Acknowledge the efforts of those involved in making the change
  • Insure that stakeholder incentives support the change

Following these guidelines will allow you to experience much higher degrees of success with change of any size or complexity.