In his book Leading Change, John Kotter mentions 8 reasons why change fails. The first four could all be categorized into what we would call the political dimensions of change. These include:
- Allowing too much complacency – i.e. being tolerant of competing agendas being played out
- Failing to provide a powerful coalition – i.e. allowing factions and dominant voices to override the transformation efforts
- Underestimating the power of vision – i.e. relying too heavily on old and outdated vision & mission statements without really testing them out on a regular basis
- Undercommunicating the vision – i.e. using classic cascade communicate to communicate the vision without testing the understanding of the different cascade routes
And if you had to distill all of these reasons down to one key theme, it would be ‘lack of senior buy-in’ to the change. Many change initiatives fail because the senior team have failed to agree and commit to the change required. This is often not driven by capriciousness, but rather engrained patterns of behaviour that become difficult to crack. One such example was a global financial provider whose executives were Chief Executives of their own divisions but had a loose federal membership to the Group. This meant that they could act at times in a way that was unhelpful for the Group, if it met the short term needs of their own business; and they often did this. When times are good this sort of combative competitiveness can be tolerated and even encouraged, but what about when the need for change is imperative and survival depends on the group strength? When Agents2Change was working in just such a situation our main focus was understanding and managing the expectations of these senior stakeholders.
A good start is to use a tool such as the Stakeholder Analysis Matrix. This allows you to see how much power the stakeholders have over the transformation program and how much interest. The two are not the same and need to be measured in different ways. Those that have the most power and the least interest are probably the most important to understand; failing to manage their expectations could prove disastrous.
Some good tips on managing stakeholders
Do a map of all your stakeholders and their needs. Don’t limit this to your senior players, but widen the map to include your staff, key customers and key suppliers.
Identify and understand their needs and requirements from this change. If it is not easily identifiable, take time to check this with the respective parties. A small amount of investment now could save a lot of time later.
Tailor communications to the particular needs and interests of your stakeholders. Don’t opt for a one size fits all approach but think about what might be the concerns and questions for each key stakeholder group and address this in your communications to them.
When holding project and progress meetings think about the stakeholders needs for each agenda item and how best to present the information to address this. Ensure meetings are geared toward informing your stakeholders or getting them to commit to a decision; if the agenda items do not do either of these two things, ask yourself - should it be on the agenda?
Always record the decisions and discussions that have taken place and share these with the wider stakeholder group. Sometimes one stakeholder group can believe that their needs are widely shared or agreed upon. Sharing decisions and issues across groups helps them to see the competing expectations that have to be managed and the role that they can play in helping you to do this.
We’d love to hear about your experience of change so please post a comment here or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.