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Many will recognise this model as an explanation of the experiences associated with Change and Transformation. We can point to the often cited reasons of lack of vision, poor leadership, culture, poor communication, lack of success measures etc., as the main reason why 70% of Change Initiatives fail. However, the Blue Arrow in our diagram above suggests something more fundamental is going on. Why do some organisations seem to have greater agility than others and seem to manage change better? The question we should ask is how can we transition better and quicker with less pain and more gain?

Taken figuratively, it seems like a long deep dive from the initial ‘shock’ through to ‘acceptance’ of change before we can start to move forward. However, the 5 stage model that Elisabeth Kubler –Ross described in 1969 was a characterisation of the experience accompanying grief and loss. Whilst it acts as a useful descriptor we need to be informed through it, not constrained by it. Some of the key concepts though are helpful in thinking through how we do help people adjust, adapt and survive. The deep dive toward acceptance doesn’t always result in an ‘automatic up’. You can’t start swimming until you stop diving and that is an important lesson in organisational transformation.

Too often we focus on change as a Project and don’t really get to grips with the Transition. Minimising the after-shock of ‘resistance’ and dealing with the emotions of anger and frustration are key to building resilience in people and helping them adopt a new perspective. We change when our perspective changes. Getting front line teams engaged early on in the change is key. Having them involved in helping vision the change and problem solving the ‘how to make it happen’ is key. We need to do far more from the bottom up much earlier in the change process if we want to move from resistance to acceptance quicker – getting people into the experimentation zone much sooner can provide some productive ‘Organisational Therapy’. Peer support and sharing the learning helps people move toward something new in a positive way. The lack of that forward energy can often leave people tied to the past and unable to move on.

In a world focused on pace we can lose the ‘human’ perspective, and then wonder why we didn’t achieve our goals – ‘More Haste – Less speed!’ Most of all, leaders need to stand back from the design detail and focus on the outcomes they are seeking to achieve. They need to be able to describe the journey and its destination, whilst helping people understand how they can contribute best to shaping that future landscape.

  1. Kubler- Ross change Curve ‘On death and Dying 1969 – adapted for use in this article.

None of this happens by accident- however, as we know, it needs to be planned and enabled. It’s all part of the ‘architect’ role of leaders in understanding what it will take to create this new entity and ensuring that appropriate support is in place. The organisation and systems need to be able to distinguish which level should be doing what and then ensuring they have the space and capability to succeed. Although it’s always tempting to do the things we know how to do, those things usually belong to the people whom we are supervising.

The ‘rocket fuel’ in accelerating change comes in the form of action based learning and short term goal setting (90 days max). Reviewing the learning in small teams and celebrating the successes often, energises people and helps them build the resilience to power them forward. It’s our job as leaders to orchestrate these opportunities and ensure the front – line successes are getting recognised at the Board level. It’s a two-way street in which the people making the change happen can also see the commitment being shown by their senior leaders. We need to be ‘permissive with our permission to change’ and empower people to do the right thing.

When change and transformation is underpinned by technology the process can be both daunting and exciting. Technology brings with it disruptive innovation that can take our view of the world and its possibilities to another level. Anticipating that level of change is key in the transformation journey since it suggests some processes may disappear altogether and others that need to be learned as new will play an important part. Leaving the old behind, adapting the current and adopting the new are challenging experiences both technically and emotionally. What’s important is not to get overwhelmed by the technology which after all is there to help the organisation change. It’s also important to recognise that the ‘go-live’ part of any such programme precedes the transformation by a long margin – it is not the job done! Having an Integrated approach to the IT Deployment with the Transformation programme for the organisation is essential. If it is seen as an IT project then the chances are that’s what it always will be and the full potential of the technology is never likely to be realised in human or bottom line terms.

It may all sound very simple and it is. However, it takes meticulous planning commitment and follow through by leaders to make it happen. Much of the heavy lifting in transformation change is done by those in middle management roles who will frequently have their own anxieties about the personal impact of change. We can’t assume because they have the title and the position in the organisation that they also have the necessary skills to lead transformation. Making a Step Change in performance through transforming the way we work requires a step change in our thinking and development as leaders. A little more focus on the EQ and little less on the logic is likely to make a big difference to the pace of transformation.

  1. Kubler- Ross change Curve ‘On death and Dying 1969 – adapted for use in this article.
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