Secrets of effective change

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What's the secret of effective change? According to a new study, companies that get change right are far more likely to follow a formal, systematic process and have dedicated staff in place than organisations that manage change less well.

Research by professional services company, Towers Watson, has identified six activities - leading, measuring, communicating, involving, learning and sustaining - that have a significant impact on a company's overall success in managing change.

"When it comes to managing major organisational change, many companies have a difficult time getting it right," said Phil Merrell, Towers Watson's UK Director of Change Management. "In fact, our research shows that less than half stay on schedule, come in on budget, or hold people accountable for deadlines."

But a clear message from the research is that the organisations that get change right are those that approach it systematically.

Two-thirds (65 per cent) of companies with the best change management practices follow a formal, systematic process, the study found, compared with just 14 per cent of companies with low change effectiveness.

Moreover, almost half (45 per cent) of respondents with high change effectiveness have a staff dedicated to change management efforts versus just 16 per cent with a lower level of change effectiveness.

Clear leadership from the top also has a profound effect on the effectiveness – or otherwise – of change initiatives. Executive sponsorship for organisational change, developing a clear vision of desired outcomes, creating an integrated communication and change management strategy, and creating strong employee motivation for making organisational change, have the most influence in the overall success of an organisation's change.

More than eight out of 10 (84 per cent) highly effective companies have a clear vision of what their organisational change is intended to achieve, compared with just one in five companies with low change effectiveness. Notably, both senior leaders and communication and change management professionals have an important role to play in these leading activities.

Effective communication is an important element of change management and, if both are done well, can significantly impact financial performance. Companies highly effective at both communication and other change management activities are 2.5 times as likely to outperform their peers as companies that are not highly effective in either area.

Measuring activities were also among the top drivers of change success. Three quarters (76 per cent) of highly effective companies set clear, measurable goals up front for the impact of changes, compared with just 14 per cent of low-effectiveness companies. Just under three-quarters (73 per cent) of highly effective companies measure their progress against goals, versus 12 per cent of companies with low-change-effectiveness practices.

The study also found that effective companies incorporate programs to sustain the positive effects of change over time. Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of highly effective companies continue to exhibit new behaviours and use new skills after changes have been made, compared with fewer than one-in-ten (8 per cent) of low-effectiveness companies.

"Organisational change is a continuous reality. Regardless of the type of change an organisation experiences or where it is located, the critical change activities remain constant. Organisations that get the leading, measuring and sustaining activities right will be the ones that experience the greatest success," concluded Merrell.

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