• Mary McGuire

Three questions driving Sustainable Change & why so many organisations fail to address them all


To bring about radical improvements in how teams operate, it is important to ask the right questions at the outset. Too often organisations only focus on one or two of these questions, believing that the other questions and their answers are self-evident. Unfortunately, evidence shows this is not the case and probably contributes to the 75% of failed change efforts that are the norm.

The three questions cover the gambit of the conception of the change, the reason it was needed and how the organisation will adapt to accommodate it. Taking them in turn:


What are we Changing?

Most change efforts when they are set in motion focus almost exclusively on what is changing. What parts of the organisations will change? What new systems will we be using? What new targets will we work to?

For a moment, imagine yourself as a worker on the shop floor who has followed the same routine for years. When they are asked to change from their way of working, how do they make sense of it without context. Even more importantly, why would they change, if they believe that the old way of doing things is just fine thank you very much.

The question of what we are changing needs to be addressed, but it needs a couple of other questions to be in the mix and communicated to everyone, to minimize resistance to the change.



How are we going to make the change happen?

When you are deep in the design phase of change, you need to know how things are going to change. Not just in blue sky terms, but in actual everyday operations terms. How will technology be used? How will teams be organised? How will the structure of the company adapt?

The details of the how are crucial in organising resources, people and technology to ensure that the benefits of the change are realised. One of the reasons that so many change efforts fail, is that too little attention has been placed on the how of things.

Planning the fine detail of the change and communicating it widely ensures that everyone understands and is ready for action when required. focus equally on what they are doing and how they are doing it. Focusing purely on behaviour, without linking it to business process and performance leads to poorly focused development. Focusing on processes and systems without considering behaviours leads to unsustainable or poorly realised improvements. To get the most out of your change efforts, you need to ensure that people are supported in adopting the new processes and the new behaviours that underpin the change. This is what is defined in the how stage.



Why are we changing?

It might seem obvious to senior leader’s in the organisation why you are making changes to the business, but the further you are from the leadership perspective, the less clear those reason’s will be. All change should start with the why. Why do we need to change? Why is it important to change right now? Why do we believe that the change will be the making or breaking of this company / bran


d/ business unit? Why do we as leaders need to change as part of the process?

If there is one area that undermines realising the benefits of change, it is not enough attention on the why. You see we are hard wired to find reasons for our actions. In fact, there’s a ton of research that shows that if we don’t know the why for an action, we simply make one up. The larger your employee base, the wider the spread of understanding of that why. If you have 10,000 employees, you don’t have one why for the change you have 10,000 whys. Most of them competing, quite a few that are cynical and many that are just downright wrong.

Unless the leaders spend time on the why – digging deep and understanding the real reasons for the change, the change efforts will be diluted or lost in the process. You will also be allowing resistance to be hard wired into your change efforts, as the why’s that some of your employees will come up with will be coloured by their experience of previous change efforts, previous leaders and previous ways of working.

Resolving your why questions won’t make change a walk in the park, but it will allow for a consistent story and reason for the change to emerge. It will diminish the possibility of competing stories and motives to emerge. Perhaps most importantly, it will allow your people to have more trust in you as leaders, because they will perceive that you are telling it like it is. Now that it something that most people will be prepared to follow.

If you are on the verge of making a big change in your organisation and are looking for some free impartial advice, book a free 15-minute spotlight session with one of our team here.


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