Successfully Managing Change

Every successful change management process has Four Stages, as well as a series of critical conditions within each stage. Plan for the Four Stages, create the critical conditions, and succeed in managing change.

The same Four Stages exist in every successful change management  process, whether that change is a corporate wide initiative, or the introduction of a new management team or leader, or an information system change, or an individual looking to lose ten pounds. While the scope and complexity and value of changes will vary, the Four Stages remain the same – always – everywhere – they do not change. Read on to see where your organization’s projects and change initiatives fit in the Four Stages, and to see how to make each of the Stages work for you.

The Four Stages

Stage One – Start Up. Stage One involves the expectations of the architects of change. Those expectations include: how much more effective we will be; how much more market share we will get; how much better information flow we will have; how much better we will look. This is the stage where opportunity is identified and turned into action.  The expectations have a few things in common: they are seen as improving the enterprise; they all require some degree of change; they are optimistic and aggressive in their time frames for completion; and they assume they will be successful. Often, aggressive goals and/or expectations are set that assume a best possible case scenario for completing the project. This step is characterized by a high level of enthusiasm and commitment and energy and ownership on the part of the architects of the change.

Stage Two – Frustration. In this stage reality sets in. Things are not working out as planned; the end result may take longer than expected; certain critical resource requirements were not planned or budgeted. People begin to see that their initial expectations for the project are not going to happen. Resistance is occurring – often in subtle ways. This is the place where energy starts to be lost; schedules start to slip; people start to bail out – this is the danger stage. Frustration replaces optimism.  Questions about the value of the change, the need for it and the “how did I get here? ” question are heard. This is the stage where most projects fail – or even worse than that, flounder along sucking up resources and time before finally disappearing.

Stage Three – Renewal. Out of the experiences of Stage Two comes a revised set of expectations and requirements. People who have stayed the course begin to take leadership in getting the project back on track.  The resources dedicated to completing the project will be different from the resources that were originally planned.  This is the Stage where the lessons of Stages 1 and 2 are put to use in reestablishing the change process. This is the critical place for the leadership of the organization to get things back on track – in many cases using a redesigned track. At this stage, enough experience and feedback is available to allow an assessment of cost/reward and what it is going to take to get the project completed successfully. Goals are revised, budgets reviewed and changed, decisions on whether or not to proceed are made. This stage is characterized by renewed effort, energy and commitment and a feeling that the process of change is moving forward again. The leadership skills and behaviors required for this stage are different than those needed when the project first started.  Hope replaces frustration and positive energy replaces negative thoughts.

Stage Four – Success. The change process is now meeting or exceeding the Stage Three goals and is beginning to provide the return on investment that was envisioned in Stage One. Things are going well, there is a good feeling about where things are headed and how the change can contribute to the continuing success of the enterprise. Effort is being rewarded with results. Tangible improvements are growing out of the effort being expended. Recognition for jobs well done occurs. Little successes are becoming big successes. Metrics are looking good and major parts of the project are completed. People start going home before their families are in bed.

Wouldn’t it be great if that was the way most projects and initiatives work  – with successful outcomes that meet the expectations of the organization and its leadership? Many do – and the ones that do share a series of critical conditions that make success happen.

Conditions Leading To Success In All Of The Four Stages

It is accepted that all Four Stages will occur, unless the project dies or founders in Stage Two, and they will occur in the same order every time. Plans to minimize the negatives and maximize the positives of each stage are made.

Always, at every Stage, accountability and responsibility are clearly spelled out and understood.

Conditions Leading To Success in Stage One – Startup

Strategy and vision must be communicated by the leadership of the organization so that goals and expectations and accountability can be defined.  If a “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach is used, then goal and review steps are planned to create early opportunities for constructive feedback on the “Fire” step and its results.

Selection of the leaders and team members that will start the process is recognized as critical. The blending of behaviors and attitudes and technical and personal skills will ensure success – or jeopardize the project from the beginning.

Stage One talent requirements are recognized as probably different from what is needed in Stages Two, Three and Four. Good people selection can overcome a lot of other shortcomings. Poor selection will screw up the best plan!

The people who will do the work and be affected by the change are participants in the planning of the process. That inclusion creates champions in the organization who will stick with it through the rough times.

Stage One is always maximized, no matter how tempting it may be to shortcut. The initial energy and commitment generated in Stage One can carry the project for a long time. 

Regularly scheduled reviews are held so that access to the progress of the effort occurs for leaders without the appearance of  acting only on negative exceptions.

Small successes are celebrated. The process is designed so the successes along the path can be recognized and rewarded. For many people, rewards while on the journey are essential to continued motivation. It is recognized that individuals may not be in a position to see the progress of the entire process, but they need feedback on how they are contributing.

Conditions In Stage Two – Frustration

This is where leadership in the organization must remain fully supportive and sustain effort and attention – people respond to what they believe is important to the Boss.

As things go wrong – and they will – the insistence on a “How do we fix it” behavior, and the discouraging of a “Who do we blame” behavior is critical to maintaining or renewing positive energy.

Stage Two is accepted as a critical part of change, regardless how well planned Stage One may have been.

It is understood that the people in the project will know when it is in Stage Two, long before The Boss knows it. Communications  are kept “unfiltered” to allow Early Warning.

Conditions In Stage Three – Renewal

The periodic reporting structure started in Stage Two  becomes even more critical to success. It creates structure for people to communicate not only accomplishments, but concerns and issues as well – the “Opportunities and Jeopardies” of the process.

This is where review and amendment are a necessary part of maximizing the effectiveness of the change initiative. This Stage is seen as a normal part of the process, and not as an exception based on failure of planning, execution, individual effort or competence.

Expectancy, and commitment that the project or initiative will succeed is communicated.  Most failures occur within sight of the finish line. This is the time to sustain effort.

Conditions In Stage Four – Success

Reward, reward, reward. People need to be recognized, and as the benefits start to flow to the organization, recognition, bonuses, time off, promotions, are all appropriate to both reward performance and to establish the climate for commitment on future changes.

A systems approach to the project is in place. Knowledge gained is identified and used for future change processes.

Everyone’s eye stays on the ball. Celebration is great, but not at the price of reduced effort while in sight of the finish line. This will require a different behavior set than the one that started the change – now is the time for the behaviors that “stick to it” to be recognized and rewarded.

Use these Stages and conditions to ensure the success of your change processes – and add to them those elements that have worked in your own organization to increase the competitive advantage of your organization.