Does your company struggle with change management? Do teammates give up on or resist change efforts?

Join the club. Failed change management is killing companies.

In today’s competitive marketplace change is inevitable. Poor change management isn’t an option. If you don’t constantly innovate and implement new processes you can’t compete.

Compounding that, in “internet time” the speed of change is breakneck. You can’t rest for even a second. An innovation at one competitor is quickly discovered. Even those companies that are great at coming up with innovations still aren’t out of the woods. Most innovations break down when we try to put them in place. In fact, one recent study found that only 56 percent of change initiatives meet their original goals and business purpose.

What can we as leaders do to get on the winning side of change?

There are two key areas where we as leaders can improve our change management. First, how we handle our “change portfolio” or the number of things we ask our teams to change at one time. With over half these projects failing we need a way to quickly stop the failures to focus on the winners. This is the strategic side.

Second, when we begin a change management project we must focus even more energy on our relationship with our team. Is it any wonder that our team is skeptical or resistant to change when more than half of our experiments end in failure? Our team sees each project as just the “flavor of the month.”

Let’s first look at the strategic side of change management.

The most interesting strategic model on change management I’ve seen in a while came out of Boston Consulting Group. A 2005 Harvard Business Review article entitled The Hard Side of Change Management describes the model. I disagree with one of the main arguments of the article – as I explain further below I don’t think you can separate the “hard” factors of change management from the so-called “soft” ones. But the DICE model they suggest is a great way to score the odds that any particular project will be successful.

Creating a process to score change projects lets you either kill projects that are likely to fail or alter a project to increase the odds of success. The advantage to these “hard” factors is that you can measure them, explain them and influence them. The most important obstacles to a successful change management project are the length of time needed to make it happen, the number of people you need to do it, and the overall results you expect to achieve.

The authors of the study Harold L. Sirkin, Perry Keenan, and Alan Jackson identified four “common denominators of change” during their 225-company, 11-year study. They looked at 1,000 change management initiatives and found, “not only has [their] correlation held, but no other factors (or combination of factors) have predicted outcomes as well.”

How to Load the Change Management DICE in Your Favor

They call these factors DICE. Think of it like this. If these four factors are in your favor, you’ve “loaded the dice” and increased the odds your change management project will succeed. The four factors are:

    1. Duration. How quickly and regularly do you review progress on your change management project? Most companies focus too much on implementing a project quickly. They worry motivation will die out and the project will fail if it takes too long. Sirkin, Keenan, and Jackson found the opposite to be true. The longer projects took to implement, the more successful they were *so long as project review sessions were consistent and timely.* They recommend a formal review at least bimonthly. And don’t forget to set milestones.
    2. Integrity. How much can you rely on your team to execute your change management project? What is their prior track record? Who is in charge and how many people are they going to lead? How good is that leader at managing competing priorities or helping their team get past the inevitable frustrations of change? All of these factors help you determine performance integrity. Companies often make the mistake of assigning a well-liked manager to be the team leader on a change management project. It makes sense. But you have to look closely at the qualities of the manager. Just because they get results under the current process doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask yourself, can they lead a change effort? This factor is the first place I part ways with the authors on the “hard” versus “soft” distinction in their model. There is no question performance integrity is critical to the success of your change management project, but the factors that help you determine it are mostly “soft” factors. Nevertheless, to calculate the odds of success you have to take a guess at the overall integrity of the team you are asking to implement.
    3. Commitment. Who is the executive sponsor of the change management effort? This isn’t always the person with the biggest title, but the one who is most influential. Will they be able to keep morale up? Keep the team focused on the prize? There is a second component to this factor. How committed is the team to the success of the project? After all, the change impacts them most. Are they excited or fearful?
      Again, the commitment of the sponsor and the team are also things I consider “soft” factors. It’s amazing how often leaders feel that they’ve communicated clearly or are being supportive when their team in the trenches feels the opposite. This is where leader approachability is so important (more on that below).
    4. Effort. Don’t forget that change initiatives mean additional work. Your team is taking on responsibilities above and beyond their day-to-day roles. It’s “above and beyond” work. While necessary, it often creates hostility, frustration, and stress. You must help the team figure out how they’ll manage it all. Also roll up your sleeves and pitch in. How much effort is needed to bring this change management project home?
      Often companies overlook, ignore or brush aside this critical factor. Don’t do that. If you have a role in change management I encourage you to check out the HBR article (the Wikipedia description of the DICE Framework is also helpful in describing how to analyze the math on your project).

What About The Human Side of Change?

Remember that initial statistic: at least 56% of change projects end in failure. When faced with the emotional toll of this pile of failure, many people just keep their head down and do things the way they’ve always been done. They prefer this even when they know that standing could eventually kill their job.

These frustrated and disengaged teammates don’t feel like they have any influence over the outcome. Why should they? Often people several levels above dream up the projects without any real input from below. As my friend Greg Hawks likes to say, they are treated like renters in the business, not owners. And if you don’t feel invested in the success of the change you are not likely to grit it out when things get tough (and they ALWAYS get tough).

That means you have to build very solid relationships with any team involved in a change management project. Whether you sponsor the project, lead the team or help execute as a teammate, you have an important role to play. You want to be the kind of leader (or teammate) who feels comfortable “shrinking the gap” and making it safe and comfortable to express frustration. Encourage others when things get tough. Don’t let your own frustrations (and you’ll have them) increase distance between you and the rest of the team.

As noted earlier, you really can’t separate the “hard” side of change management from the “soft” side. But you can look at them in a strategic way that also accounts for the people side of the equation. That gives you the best possible chance for success – without rolling the dice.

How successful have your change initiatives been in the past? Looking at the four DICE factors, where did the breakdown happen? How do you think soft skills like leader approachability affect the hard factors?