Book Review: Leading Successful Change
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“Many of most popular books about change address its psychological aspects and focus on people’s internal states or motivations,” write Gregory P. Shea & Cassie A. Solomon in their book Leading Successful Change: 8 Keys for Making Change Work. They continue to say:
However, this psychological perspective can be used to promote the belief that motivating individuals is the key to any organisational change effort. Leaders’ primary job is to inspire the troops.
If the main role of a project leader is to inspire others, then the risk is that she is branded as uninspiring or not very good at her job. The team members are also labeled as resistant and unwilling change. Everyone loses, and the change doesn’t happen. The project is a failure. Change management is crucial.
Why do change projects fail?
Shea and Solomon argue for two main reasons why change fails:
First, leaders often set vague targets such as ‘increase profitability’. I hope that the project business cases and charters will ensure that this doesn’t happen when the change initiative runs as a programme or project. We should be able to identify clear, measurable goals before we start a project!
Second, leaders underestimate their work environment. This means that what we tell people to do does not match what they see when they arrive at work. The change programme can’t be trusted if it is unclear what to do and why it is necessary.
Change your environment to change your behavior
This book argues that change cannot be imposed in vague terms. You must change your behaviour. The change will not be successful unless everyone changes their behavior to work with the new model.
Solomon and Shea recommend that you focus on the behaviors you want and then design the environment to support them. They say, “Change the environment and people will adapt.”
This is contrary to the advice you may have heard about enthusiastic project sponsors who said that if people don’t adapt to new processes or work methods, they will be asked to leave. Solomon and Shea argue that humans are capable of adapting. The new work environment should support the behavior you desire to see. People will adapt and there is no need to fire anyone.
They write that change often fails because people lack the ability to change, but because the workplace environment doesn’t encourage people to use their adaptive capacity to adapt.
The levers of transformation
This book contains several examples of successful change programs that have used this approach at Whirlpool, Lloyds of London and other organizations. These projects did not focus on inciting troops or forcing people into change, but rather on focusing on several of the 8 levers for change. These are the ones Shea and Solomon identified as:
Allocation of decisions
These levers are covered in detail in the book. The Work Systems Model is a holistic system that focuses on change across many levers. It can be used to reengineer the workplace to encourage the behaviors you want.
This book is useful for understanding how to make change stick and what it takes to get people to adapt to new ways. This book could be of interest to you if you are a leader of a change program or project. This book is aimed at large-scale organisational change programmes, such as major business reengineering. You may need to scale back some of the ideas.