Even the most sensible change initiatives can flounder if emotions and political dynamics within an organization are ignored. But a five-step process can proactively address these “softer” factors — and enable successful change.
In today’s fast-paced economy, leaders know that their organization’s success may be tightly linked to its ability to change and change again — and again. Most executives have a portfolio of tools that they use for developing their strategic plans, structure, metrics and other “hard aspects” of change. However, their approach to tackling the “softer side of change” and, more specifically, navigating the politics and emotions associated with change, is often more unstructured. Yet left unattended, skepticism, fear and panic can wreak havoc on any change process. These types of feelings can create resistance, disengagement, distraction and burnout. Innovative ideas may get suffocated, time and energy wasted, and change goals sacrificed to short-term self-interest. Performance may also drop as exasperated high-performing employees leave for calmer seas. As consultants, called in afterward to clean up the wreckage, we often hear things like:
“It seemed like the new sustainability initiative was ready to be launched and that we would roll it out full steam ahead. Then there was push-back from the suppliers and the staff lost faith that it would ever work.” “The merger integration never really happened. Both companies held onto their ways of doing things, and politics paralyzed the process. All the best talent bailed and the value of the company tanked.” “Fear of this technology switchover was rampant, and before we knew it, the whole thing ground to a halt.”1
After listening to dozens of similar stories, we began to recognize an underlying pattern in these failures. Working with executives both as consultants and in more than 400 change projects conducted as part of the Kellogg/Schulich Executive MBA program, we developed a practical approach for systematically navigating and leveraging the politics and emotions that naturally arise in every major change. (See “About the Research.”)