The long-term success of all change initiatives relies heavily on reinforcement, as without it, people will naturally revert to the state with which they are most familiar and therefore comfortable with. Yet because the idea of reinforcing changed behaviour seems like the next step of a change management approach, it is often not considered in the development of the initial strategy. And by the time change leaders reach the end of one change project, they have become absorbed in the next. Meaning that the reinforcement of change simply doesn’t receive the attention it deserves, making the new status quo much more difficult to sustain. Here are 6 tips to help reinforce and sustain change.
Making sure a newly implemented change is both long lasting and sustainable requires concerted effort and time to reinforce newly implemented change processes. Prosci’s benchmarking reports reveal that little more than half of the total number of organisations surveyed plan ahead for reinforcement and sustainment activities but fewer than half are dedicating the resource necessary to implement these processes.
Consider these best practices for creating long-lasting and sustainable change:
1. Make changes that make sense
A change management initiative isn’t carried out for the sole purpose of disrupting the way an organisation operates. But rather the disruption of the existing status quo is a by-product of the change journey.
In order for employees to accept the disruption into their daily routine, an organisation must focus on minimising the disruption. One of the best ways to do this is to consciously focus on how different employee groups or functions are likely to resist change and put mitigation tactics in place proactively, without waiting for the resistance to surface. According to Prosci Best Practices data, more than 50% of employees believe that more than 50% of the resistance occurring in a project could have been anticipated and mitigated, it's just that few organisations take the time to proactively think about likely resistance points.
If employees are unable to identify the long-term benefits which will accrue with successful adoption of a change in ways of working or can make sense of the project in relation to organisational culture, resistance to the change is likely to be much higher, and last throughout the entirety and beyond of the change project.
2. Make sure all stakeholders know why the change is important
Making sure all employees and stakeholders understand why the organisational change is necessary and the consequences of not making the change successful are key to ensuring its longevity. If all individuals affected by the change are made aware that to not change would negatively impact upon their own day to day role and the performance of the business as a whole, then it becomes much easier for employees to embrace the changes on an individual level. In turn, this makes it a much easier process for change leaders to reinforce the need to sustain the change.
3. Support employees to make the change. Both during and after the change project.
A dedicated training and support team is key to ensuring that all employees are empowered to adapt to the new normal; adopting and using any new tools, processes or systems where necessary. Providing adequate support is a typical feature of any well-managed change project, however, it is important to consider the varying rates at which your employees will adapt to the new changes. This, along with the newly faced challenges and scenarios which might present themselves as a result of the change, means that continuous support and training - often from directly impacted line managers - is required to reinforce the objectives of the change project to front-line staff.
4. Listen to employee challenges
Being a part of making an organisational change and having an organisational change happen to you are two very different things. With these two scenarios, there is a varying likelihood of the changed becoming long-lasting and sustainable.
As an example in an M&A transaction often one organisation feels they are merging with the other while the other organisation feels they are acquiring the first. Two very different sentiments that will influence adoption of the new ways of working required by the transaction, directly impacting the ability to generate the synergy financial and non-financial benefits from the transaction, often promised at the announcement.
Employees who are working within an environment which is constantly changing around them are likely to feel isolated and unable to address the challenges they are currently facing in their day to day roles.
However, employees who are actively involved in and informed of the change processes are better able to realise their position in the evolving environment and work to adapt to the new situation.
By providing employees with an opportunity to air the challenges they are currently facing, surfacing their natural resistance, change leaders are better able to engage all employee levels in the change process. Additionally, by continually receiving up-to-date feedback, change leaders can work to improve ongoing enterprise change strategies.
5. Identify someone as responsible for ensuring change is sustained
When a change project ends and change leaders move on to the next project the responsibility for ensuring that an organisational change becomes a lasting feature often fizzles out with them. With no-one person accountable for reinforcing change, addressing challenges and acting as a continued sponsor for the project it is easy for the importance of the change to become lost and for employees to revert back to the previous state.
6. Develop consistent processes for the reinforcement of change
If an organisation has a history of introducing changes that initially appear to be successful, but never seem to last, stakeholders are less likely to be invested in the newest project. However, if an employee has witnessed the successful implementation and continued reinforcement of historic change projects, it becomes much easier to accept and support new initiatives.
To learn more about the best practices for implementing change management, why not download our infographic. Or alternatively, if you are looking for more support in how you might develop your change management knowledge, contact us today.