Thursday, February 20, 2014

4 Steps for Making Change Happen

Guest post from August Turak:

The main reason why transformation fails is because organizations are very resistant to change, especially in organizations where powerful executives have their own interests and territory. How do you overcome that? Here are four ways to make change happen:

Step 1: Try to be compassionate -- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes
All resistance to change is not rooted in hard-headed self-interest. Genetics teaches us that the vast majority of "change" called "mutations" are actually harmful to the organism. Only a tiny few lead to evolutionary breakthroughs. We are all genetically programmed to be conservative as a result. Historically, the vast majority of political and social change led to chaos not utopia. My company sold software and resistance to change was our biggest objection. If the new software implementation went off without a hitch no one cared or noticed. But if it crashed the organization, heads rolled. Our clients' resistance to change was not irrational and it was up to us, not our clients, to manage it. There is a lot of wisdom in the old adage that "no one ever got fired for buying IBM" -- or Microsoft or Google. First of all, put yourself in the other guy's shoes and realize that the risks involved are real. It may very well be his/her job, not yours, that is on the line if your transformation goes awry.
Also compassionately remember that executives may not have all the power you give them credit for. The days of telling people to jump and having them say "how high?" are gone. Implementing change today relies on building consensus rather than executive fiat. 

Step 2: Have a plan for getting initial buy-in (include contingencies)
Make sure your proposal takes into account all these legitimate concerns and potential dangers surrounding change. Make sure you have a plan for getting everyone affected by the change on board including a contingency for what you'll do if people turn against you later on.

Step 3: Minimize your risks
The next step is to minimize these risks. Think of all those cleaning solutions that recommend that you try them out on some inconspicuous swath of fabric first. Find some "out of the way" department or project to experiment on where the variables are controllable, the investment is minimal, and results are easily measured. Let the success of your little experiment become contagious. Others will start saying: "Who are those guys? How can we get results like that?"
Soon your experiment will spread virally and top management will no longer be risking a revolution, but responding to a bottom up groundswell backed by hard data.

Step 4: Measure results with hard data
This final point about hard data is critical. If you can't or won't measure results don't expect sympathy from me or any line manager. I don't care how theoretically "worthwhile" your transformation is, you must link your efforts to the mission of the company and that means, whenever possible, financially. If you can't measure results then you probably shouldn't try to bring about change, but you'll be surprised to find that almost anything, whether qualitative or quantitative, can be measured if we just put our heads to it.

If you are in a business culture that is resistant to change, instead of wasting energy on frustration follow this formula. In the next couple of weeks, research a change that you want to make happen. Anticipate all possible objections and create contingency plans for anything that could go wrong. Put in place measurable goals to track success. Create consensus by presenting your plan to colleagues and stakeholders. With preparation, contingency planning, buy-in, and metrics, you'll find that bringing about change is far easier than you thought.

Author Bio:
August Turak is a successful entrepreneur, corporate executive, award winning writer and author of Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO's Quest for Meaning and Authenticity (Columbia Business School Publishing; July 2013). He has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Selling Magazine, the New York Times, and Business Week, and is a popular leadership contributor at His website is

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