I haven’t always known what I know now about change and change management. There is one change that I tried for years and never really got the new behaviours to stick.
The change was not an organizational change but a personal one. But like I’ve talked about before, change management isn’t just for the workplace. This change initiative taught me several valuable lessons and can help you with your organizational change.
The Teenager that Wouldn’t Clean Her Room
My struggle was getting my teenage daughter to clean her room. More often than I care to admit getting her to clean her room became a battle. A battle I fought and lost regularly. That is until she moved out at twenty-three.
We both laughed about that time again when she gave her permission to share our story. As we reflected on why that change was so difficult to sustain, we identified three critical mistakes.
Mistakes I see leaders making today when it comes to organizational change. Avoiding these mistakes can help you create healthy and sustainable change. They may also help you get your teenager to maintain a clean room.
Three Mistakes That Prevent Change From Sticking
- No clarity or internalization of why the change was needed.
For my daughter, everything worked. She could find what she needed most of the time. She knew which clothes were clean and which were dirty. And since she didn’t keep food in her room, there was little risk of attracting unwanted guests.
As a result, I was always trying to sell a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. The same thing can happen with your organizational change efforts. You spend weeks, months, even years analyzing a situation or recognizing a potential opportunity and identifying a solution. Excited about the benefits of the change and believing the people affected can see the problem, you announce the solution with the expectation that people will buy in.
But instead of getting an enthusiastic response, you get pushback, questions, and reasons why the change won’t work. That’s because although they may see a problem, they have not internalized the need for change. People need time to explore, understand and internalize the need for change and connect meaningfully to the proposed solution. The Law of Change states, “people will only move toward something new or different when they believe and have internalized it is needed.”
- Failure to involve the change-recipients consistently, actively, and early in the decision-making and process
Because I often just wanted to get the room cleaned, I would let her play while I tidied her room instead of involving her at an early age. Unfortunately, this meant that by the time she was old enough and could do it herself, she was unwilling to put the effort and work into maintaining a clean room. I had created the conditions for the battles we would inevitably have.
It’s similar to your organizational change efforts. You hold off communicating about a needed change until you have everything planned, or you create a small team or hire a change management expert to “do the change management.” Then when you announce the change with everything decided, and people push back, ask questions, and don’t embrace, they are labelled resistant to change. But they are not resistant. They are unprepared for the discomfort, effort, and work involved in making the transition.
That’s why you need to ensure the people who will adopt the new activities are actively involved early in the process. Now, I know the stress my daughter and I experienced could have been avoided if I had actively involved her earlier.
- Lack of modelling the behaviours in alignment with the intended outcome.
This one, I would like to place the blame squarely on her father, but I know I was guilty of it too. When I was in what I like to call the guts of the change in getting her to try and keep her room clean, I didn’t always model the same behaviour. And she noticed—big time.
When it comes to organizational change, leaders must model the intended behaviours until the new activities and behaviours are fully integrated and adopted.
Getting my teenage daughter to clean her room was an ongoing struggle until she moved out. Luckily for me, the stakes were low. However, the stakes for even the most minor organizational change can be high. The inability to sustain new activities inhibits your growth, raises the risk of change fatigue, and directly impacts your bottom line.
We can help if changes in your organization have a history of failure or resistant employees. I’d be happy to have a conversation and explore what we can do to help you reduce the risk and show you how to use change for growth.