The way to succesfully change

By: Charlotte Houben

How do you set your organization in motion? Every successful transformation hinges not only on a clear end goal but also on a logical route to achieve it. In this article, you will learn about the five building blocks for successful change.

Charlotte Houben

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Implementing a new IT system. Adopting an agile approach. Organizations desiring change usually have a solid grasp of their end goal and what needs to change. Yet, the journey of change itself, or the how question, often gets overshadowed in practice, observes consultant Charlotte Houben from Highberg. "It's easier to primarily focus on the benefits of a specific transformation challenge; that's concrete and provides a foundation. Understandably, it tends to be the main point of discussion. However, this often leads organizations to overlook the way they're going to execute the transformation. This is a shame because insufficient attention to this aspect can result in the intended transformation getting stuck or failing."

According to Houben, every successful transformation relies on five critical building blocks. What are the key prerequisites for a successful journey of change?

#1: Clear Destination

Successful change begins with a clear vision of the future. Without a well-defined image of your journey's destination, navigation becomes difficult. Houben says, "Only with a clear and tangible 'destination' in mind can the right ambition emerge for the organization. It should be abundantly clear to the organization why the change is necessary and where it is moving toward. Employees and leaders must understand why the current status quo needs to change."

"It's also essential to translate this vision into tangible goals and plans. What does the change mean specifically, now and in the coming period? Moreover, the proposed steps should align with the organization and its culture. The future vision must be achievable, considering the organization's capabilities and time."

#2: Ownership and Collaboration

Next, it's crucial to have the right people at the table, continues Houben. "Crucial for a successful outcome is a united alignment top team, with individuals capable of realizing the necessary breakthrough. It's also important for the right stakeholders to support the change. This can include a CEO who is interested in the results but isn't part of the transformation team. Or managers of departments not directly involved in the transformation."

"Moreover, there are often employees who wield significant influence over their colleagues, and you must ensure their engagement as well. Don't forget this frequently large group of informal leaders. If they start moving in a different direction, you'll find a significant portion of the organization follows suit. Additionally, think carefully about governance," Houben emphasizes. "Only with well-structured governance can the change be carried collectively. Do the right people have the necessary authority? Is it clear how and with whom to escalate issues? Is ownership clearly defined? You must address these and other governance challenges beforehand."

#3: Leading Coalition

Houben further underscores the need for a leading coalition; individuals possessing the right competencies, time, and space to drive the change. "You can involve numerous external consultants, but without a dedicated change team from within the organization, every transformation is bound to fail. The change team sets the right example and persuades the rest of the organization," Houben explains. "You genuinely need individuals who believe in the outlined future vision and demonstrate behaviors in line with that vision. Commitment is key.

#4: Shaping the Change

The fourth significant building block is a well-structured transformation journey, continues Houben. "A clear, attainable, and realistic roadmap is essential. What milestones will you encounter and when? Are there sufficient feedback loops in place to allow for timely course correction if things deviate from the plan? Also, think carefully about governance and decision-making. Can decisions be made quickly and efficiently within the change process? In essence, does an effective communication structure exist?" Only when you have a clear view of the progress can you determine the success of the change and whether adjustments are required. As such, it's important to consider indicators that reflect progress, emphasizes Houben. "For instance, you could compare the results of teams that have undergone a particular transformation with those that haven't."

#5: Sustainable Change

Finally, Houben highlights the importance of sustainable change. "The last thing you want is for everything to crumble when the last consultant packs up. It's all the more crucial to embed the change in existing management structures. This can include education and talent management programs, the performance cycle, and the Target Operating Model (TOM)."

"Continuously assess the impact of the change actively. Base this assessment on data and analysis rather than assumptions. Invest in continuous improvement, ensuring short feedback loops and anchoring the transformation within your Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle (PDCA). This way, you ensure that the change truly becomes part of your organization's DNA."

How Does This Improve Your Organization's Performance?

Too often, organizations focus on the 'what' question in change matters, leaving the 'how' question overshadowed. The five building blocks outlined here help anchor the transformation within your organization's DNA and shape the journey of change effectively. The insights in this article will assist you in effectively shaping transformation challenges within your organization.

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