The Power of Context to Manage Organizational Change

The Power of Context to Manage Organizational Change
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Organizational Change Context
The bad news is that only about one-quarter of organizational change programs succeed. Why? We think there are two underestimated reasons — both are related to the power of context to manage organizational change.

  1. Change Event vs. Ongoing Change Mindsets
    The first is that far too many leaders approach organizational change as a distinct event that has a beginning and an end.  In reality, change management consulting experts know that organizational change is complex, multi-dimensional, messy, and ongoing.

    While projects certainly need discrete beginnings and endings (e.g., the phase 1 functionality of the new ERP system will go live on August 1st), the way work needs to get done must shift every time there is a change in strategy, leadership, competition, team members, performance, org structure, etc.

    While it is not healthy to have too much revolutionary change at work, savvy leaders know that organizational change is a constant that their organization must be prepared to handle.
  2. Not Aligning Change Approaches to the Context of Change
    Different change efforts can have wildly different change drivers at the individual, team, and organizational levels.  Some organizational changes are comparatively simple, predictable, and manageable while others are highly complex, unpredictable, and high stakes.  Accordingly, standard, textbook change management interventions do not always work.

    The evidence of successful change in an organization — high levels of adoption, engagement, performance, etc. — become elusive unless the overall change context is fully understood and agreed upon.

Go Slow to Go Fast
Just as participants in our change management simulation learn the hard way, executives tell us that they feel pressure to jump into designing the desired future state in order to deliver results faster.  But it is a big mistake to rush forward without having an accurate and agreed-upon view of how things truly get done compared to how leaders “think things get done.” 

We regularly hear from employees that when leaders skip the step of thinking through the specific context and root causes for change, the urgency for change decreases while confusion, faulty assumptions, finger pointing, and misaligned workstreams increase.

To succeed at change, everyone affected by change needs to be clear on the extent, complexity, consequences, and goals of the desired change in addition to the micro- and macro-environments in which the change must occur.

Simple vs. Complicated Change Contexts
In general, for simple and fairly predictable change contexts, change leaders can employ a more top-down, straightforward, and traditional change management approach focused on communicating change, managing targeted behaviors, holding employees accountable, and tracking progress.

Complicated change contexts, however, require a different and more multi-faceted approach to change to handle more unpredictable responses to change. To succeed, complicated change contexts require the early and active and involvement, prototyping, and feedback by those most affected by change.  You will know that you are on the right path when your key stakeholders feel like they have designed the desired changes in a way that makes sense to them — both personally and professionally.

The Bottom Line
Not all organizational change challenges are created equal. To succeed at change, leaders need to consider the diversity of change contexts and adapt their change methodology to the specific situation.

To learn more about the power of context to manage organizational change, download How to Best Mobilize, Design and Transform Your Change Initiative

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