Leading organizational change

How to guide implementation and secure improvements


As management consultants, we often hear from executives and managers that their improvement programs have somehow stalled. Often they know what they want to achieve, but the path to it is a lot less clear. Initial interviews often reveal that insufficient attention was given to certain change steps early in the transformation process. A structured and balanced approach to leading organizational change can prevent this. In this white paper, we succinctly introduce the four main phases within any organizational change process. Going through these stages properly increases the likelihood of successful implementation of improvement programs.

Below we will detail each phase.

1. Targeting & Motivation

Your starting point is largely determined by your ambitions and the situation you find yourself in. To arrive at a good idea of where you want to go, ask the following questions. What do our customers want? How are we experiencing competitive pressures and what opportunities are there? How are we performing against our competitors (benchmarks)? What opportunities do we see in further improving our organizational model? The outcomes of these questions will enable you to shape your strategic ambition (vision, goals and priorities). At this stage it is especially important to state why the change is necessary, what the change will look like in outline and what the benefits will be. Let go of the “how” for now. First get people to see the point of the change, create support and motivate them to start making the change. Good internal communication and “storytelling” are important. Do you have an inspiring vision with an attractive picture of the future? Have you indicated why the change is necessary and what are the risks of not changing? Did people hear your message? Do they believe it? Do they know what it means?

In the first phase, it is important to mobilize people who are open and willing to change. Through their involvement and visible participation, they can move change forward. These people can become strong and active sponsors for change. They can positively influence the strongest dissenters. Remember to listen to the “obstructionists” who are uncertain and/or opposed to the change. Understand their objections and arguments. The power of good listening and empathy is often underestimated. In many cases, people just want to be heard and taken seriously. Listening to and understanding their objections often leads to conflict resolution. In fact, listening can help identify misunderstandings about the change.

2. Setting Up & Explaining

Achieving the desired change requires that people understand what the future will look like and how to get there. Personal consequences will also need to be clearly identified. A clear roadmap in terms of portfolio of initiatives, communication plan, timeline and risk management can help. This goes beyond a general description of the desired situation. People need to understand what will be different and what will remain the same. Therefore, to enable successful strategy execution, it is also important to set up the organization carefully and concretely (structure, roles, processes, controls and expectations). You will also need to identify the organizational conditions required to bring about the desired change (knowledge, skills, desired culture, tools and resources). The design, coordination and control of operations should be left mainly to the line managers and employees themselves. Placing responsibilities lower down the line encourages ownership. It is important, however, that line managers be supported in this. To manage implementation preparation and support line managers, it is recommended that a lead change team and a steering committee with sponsors from the board be formed.

3. Performance & Coaching

The implementation phase is all about skilled and motivated people who believe in the organization’s ambitions and pursue a common goal. It is important to put the right people in the right places and invest in developing their skills and talents. Herein lies an important role for the manager. The manager must be a shining example, give direction, coach and challenge people and make sense of every action. In this phase, it is important to monitor progress on compliance with the “new way of working,” eliminate obstacles and encourage property and collaboration. Also, don’t forget to celebrate successes. By celebrating successes, you express your appreciation for people’s hard work. This results in a positive work environment.

4. Adapt & Strengthen

Making a change happen is hard enough. Securing, building on, improving and adapting, however, is even more difficult. You must commit to a strategy and organizational model, but also have the guts to adjust it as the situation requires. The ability to dynamically manage an organization becomes the most important source of competitiveness. The organization’s adaptability can be increased by establishing an “analysis – focus – execution – evaluation” platform and building internal change capacity. This platform can encourage the sharing of new ideas and eliminate barriers to change. Involve as many employees and collaborative partners as possible in improvement and innovation initiatives and learn from mistakes and successes.

When can we move to the next phase?

You will have to meet some conditions before you can move from one stage to another. Each phase has its own characteristics. It is important, to increase the chances of success, to complete each phase carefully. By doing this, you avoid confusion, active and passive resistance, employee dissatisfaction, delays and inefficiencies. Be aware that change in real life does not happen in a linear step-by-step fashion. Often decisions made in a previous phase will have to be reconsidered based on new facts and insights. Even if this happens, it is important not to simply jump from one phase to another if the organization is not yet ready.

Checklist for successfully leading organizational change

If you can answer “yes” to the questions below, related to each phase of the organizational change process, then you are ready to move to the next phase.

Targeting & Motivation

  1. Is the strategic vision clear to everyone, do they understand the need for change and the risks of not changing?
  2. Have a number of concrete and prioritized improvement projects been identified to achieve the change vision?
  3. Do people see the point of the change and feel ownership of it?

Setting Up & Explaining

  1. Has a clear roadmap been developed in terms of portfolio of initiatives (linked to the improvement pathways), timeline and risk management?
  2. Is there a leading transition team that can work with the line to develop the organizational and operating model (structure, roles, skills needed, tools and KPIs)?
  3. Do people understand the purpose, their roles and the path to it (expectations), and is specific attention given to setting up training and development programs?

Performance & Coaching

  1. Has a customized transition plan been developed to implement each improvement initiative, and do we have the right people in the right place to manage it?
  2. Has sufficient energy been created by portraying the desired culture in an inspiring way and showing what excellent execution looks like?
  3. Do managers set a good example and act as coaches who support the execution of work?

Adapt & Strengthen

  1. Has a continuous improvement infrastructure been created to give substance to the continuous improvement process?
  2. Are as many employees and collaborative partners involved in joint improvement and innovation initiatives as possible?
  3. Is investment being made in developing leaders and enthusiastic internal change agents who can initiate and implement improvements independently in the future (building internal change capacity)?