Jonathon Karelse: “Long-Term Focus Imperative to Change Management Success”

If change management were easy, the statistics on how effectively organizations have successfully undergone significant transformation would be a lot better. In fact, the oft-cited findings of McKinsey and Company that 70 percent of all transformations fail are telling.

Change management – for all that it’s become a somewhat overused term that means different things to different people – essentially refers to the processes, techniques, and tools that are utilized to drive an organization to different and/or better circumstances. The idea is to achieve sustainable change over time.

Many organizations spin their transformational wheels, Jonathon Karelse suggests, for two reasons. The co-founder and partner of global consultancy NorthFind Partners says one is the all-too-common short-term focus. “They are too busy putting their time, focus and resources into the here-and-now, and are unable to shift to the kind of strategic, long-term thinking that the change imperative requires,” Jonathon Karelse says.

Another hindrance is in the somewhat vague nature of change management, Karelse notes. Complete engagement can be difficult when its payoffs can be difficult to quantify – in the short term, at least.

It’s common to hear about the underpinnings of successful change management. Accountability. Shared vision. Involvement by all stakeholders. Enabling behavior. And those are all important. These are the more “soft” side elements required for a change initiative to secure buy-in and good traction.

But paying attention to the “hard” aspects is equally important, especially since, as an article in the Harvard Business Review noted, “soft factors don’t directly influence the outcomes of many change programs. For instance, visionary leadership is often vital for transformation projects, but not always.”

The hard aspects are the building blocks – things like specific goals, strategic plans, the tools used and the measures and processes by which progress is measured.  Putting rigor behind these aspects can be a challenge.

Lack of sufficient planning will result in the change initiative falling apart. Managers must delineate exactly what changes are the goal and establish a roadmap for making them happen. Roles must be assigned, responsibilities described and accountability established. And a timeline is essential. Among other things, it must anticipate downtime and account for challenges for completing regular work as change is in process.

Importantly, Karelse mentions, “the plan must be well-defined, with Key Success Factors (KSF) articulated and revisited regularly to help evaluate progress.” This also, he points out, makes it easier to secure the resources – which often are stretched – necessary to see the program through.

Another important “hard” aspect to change management falls under the measurement category. As Peter Drucker put it, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”  Success must be defined and tracked in order to quantify progress and adjust your processes to produce the desired outcome.

This ties back to the need for and value of data-driven decision making as a general rule – not just during change initiatives. Either way, though, metrics are necessary to track process as well as personal and financial performance. But, importantly, transformational change requires leadership to make sure the measurement systems to support the change initiative in each area.

Ultimately, the challenge to ensuring that change initiatives do the job in successfully transforming organizations is for management to do a better job of balancing the soft and hard aspects. The best route to success and sustainability is to make sure they’re seen to in tandem.

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