In 1995, John B. Kotter completed a 10-year study of more than 100 companies and found that only 30 percent of change programs have succeeded in achieving their objectives. In 2008, more than a decade later, McKinsey & Co. surveyed 3,199 executives and results showed only one in three change programs found success.
Why do so many change initiatives fail?
Examining this further reveals that two factors account for 70 percent of failures: employee resistance and management behaviors. In other words, people are the key to success.
Employ a human-centered approach
Change may involve new ways of thinking or doing that push past barriers. To succeed, the process of change must inspire action. And to inspire action, we have to engage.
But here’s the tough part: How can we engage people? While many ways to drive engagement are available, the most foolproof approach is to put people at the forefront (otherwise known as Design Thinking!).
Propagated by innovation and design firm IDEO-U, Design Thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that brings together three aspects:
- what is desirable from a human point of view
- what is technically feasible
- what is economically viable
It aims to achieve two key outcomes—firstly, innovation from the overlap of these aspects, and secondly, higher adoption by putting the human element first.
Design Thinking has five key components: empathy, ideation, innovation, testing, and storytelling.
It begins with empathy and understanding what people need. This is followed by the ideation phase, where people generate solutions. Filtering ideas through the lenses of desirability, feasibility, and viability means only the most innovative ideas remain. Testing these ideas through real-world prototypes is the next phase, which brings in a layer of practical real-world experience. Design thinking then calls for iteration, or the repetition of ideation and rapid prototyping phases, through continuous innovation. Lastly, lessons learned on this journey are best shared through storytelling.
Applying Design Thinking to change programs
How might we apply this to the change process? In the diagram below, I’ve combined the Managed Change™ Model by La Marsh and the Design Thinking Framework by IDEO-U to see how Design Thinking can be applied to the change process. Let’s take a closer look:
1. Initiate change through empathy.
Do you like when people do things unasked, that might affect you? Most probably not. It’s the same with change at work. Initiating change without understanding what your employees need or want is futile. Change should never start with mere information dissemination; it should begin instead with interactions with your workers. Engage in conversations with them, observe, and listen to their concerns. Only through this will you be able to empathize better with their needs and expectations. Most importantly, you will be able to identify what motivates change. Simply put, including people in the change process from the very beginning lets them contribute to its success. It’s a program designed by them, for them.
2. Develop ownership through ideation.
Brainstorm in a group setting to generate innovative ideas. By co-creating ideas on how to manage a smoother transition, you can instill a stronger sense of ownership within your teams and lower the resistance to change.
3. Test change initiatives through pilots.
Change initiatives are complex and multifaceted. To ensure the highest success rate, why not do a pilot test? If your change program is made up of multiple aspects (teams, processes, and frameworks), identifying a representative sample to test effectiveness could have its benefits. Doing so not only allows control over your area of influence but also minimizes the risk of failure. Furthermore, it ensures you learn from the experience. A successful pilot is a great way to build positive grapevine, create excitement, and bring real-world experiences to the change initiatives.
4. Spread the word through storytelling.
Encourage everyone involved to share their stories related to the change experience. Understanding how individuals or teams overcame their challenges helps others relate to the experience, visualize how they would be impacted, and clarify what they stand to gain. Storytelling also helps people identify with role models and learn from their change journeys.
5. Improve your program through iteration.
Organizations, processes, and techniques are constantly evolving. In essence, change is not a destination, it is a journey. As organizations evolve, so must change programs. This is the process of continuous innovation. Change programs must therefore adapt themselves to suit the organization and people’s changing needs.
Beat the odds
Remember how only one in three companies succeeds in their change programs? You could be that one company. Innovation is paramount to continuous improvement. By combining Design Thinking and other approaches such as Inversion Thinking into your change program, you can push your organization toward innovative solutions—thus, improving engagement and delivering successful change.
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