There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.» – Niccolo Machiavelli

On a daily basis we work together with leaders to achieve strong performance improvements. This usually impacts the individual and the organization as a whole. In this article we discuss dimensions of handling change, which in our experience, is one of the key elements of successful and sustainable performance improvements.

Google the word change. Number of hits: 3.76 billion. Google organizational change. Around 40 million hits. The Internet is packed with best practices, how to…, success criteria, “the ten principles…”, blogs, articles and ads.

In addition, if you type in change management on Amazon.com more than 80,000 books are available on the topic. Managers, consultants and academics gladly share their knowledge on change management, organizational change, change processes etc. Even young professionals fresh out of school has extensive knowledge on change theories and best practices on change management.

How then, can 60-70 % of all large organizational change efforts fail? It’s all there, all the information you need as a leader or an employee.

Some of the most important success criteria, in our experience, are creating support and commitment for the change process throughout the organization and freeing up resources to do the work. How do you create support and commitment? By rationally explaining why change is necessary? Yes, but experience – and theory – tells us this is not enough. And to free up resources you need middle management and employees to support and commit to the change initiative, right? We sometimes relate the change efforts to one of Aristotle’s famous thoughts on the modes of persuasion:

  • Ethos – relates to the presenters authority
  • Pathos – addressing the emotional side of the listener
  • Logos – accurate logic and reasoning You need to appeal to more than peoples rationality if you want them to listen and agree with you. When handling change, this is referred to as the three dimensions of change; rational, emotional and political. These dimensions should be considered equally important, but are too often not treated as such.

 

  • Rationality is the dimension change managers generally have most control over through logical arguments; “we should do this because of that”. Describing the logic and reasoning between an initiative and the benefit it creates, while measuring progress through KPI’s.
  • Emotions are more difficult to 1) detect and 2) manage. Detecting emotions are related to emotional intelligence and awareness, something that all leaders of change need training on. Managing emotions are related to avoiding a feeling of imposing the changes. Systematic processes that encourage involvement and contribution are examples of how to handle this. Why? To build team consensus around the changes, approaches and policies.
  • Political aspects concerns an individuals position, role, responsibilities, power, influence etc. Politics that happen out in the open, are often positive and necessary. The problem is when politics turn into intrigue and sabotage. Trust, structured communication and transparency of implications are often key elements of managing office politics.

So, again. Why do 60-70 % of all large organizational changes fail?

Our rational explanation would be that people are not only rational and rationality alone does not drive change.

People do.