Who Owns Your Company’s Change Initiative?

When it comes to change management programs, companies are spoiled for choice. There is an abundance of elearning options, experts, tools and books (more than 35,000 on Amazon) on the market today. The research behind these approaches is vast, there’s no doubt about that. So why is it that almost 60% of change initiatives fail to meet their objectives?

As I reflected on my own facilitation experience, I realized what throttles the efficacy and sustainability of even the most brilliant initiatives – the people they’re aimed at simply didn’t ask for it.

When ownership fails

A few years ago I was part of a community development team working at an organization in a disadvantaged neighborhood that was confronted by some pretty grim challenges.

We met with the organization’s leader and discussed the issues she and her staff were facing and took it upon ourselves to pick the one we thought was most important to address. Despite our confidence in our approach, the initiative flopped.

During a follow-up visit, she revealed that it was not the first time a change initiative had failed at her organization. They had no shortage of community development workers coming in and trying to make a change. But so far, nothing had ever really stuck.

Ownership through collaboration

A few weeks later, we received an email from one of their employees. She had an idea for an initiative that would solve a problem that she was passionate about, and she wanted our help in designing it. Together we made a dynamic team: she had the in-house knowledge we needed to make a meaningful change program, and my team had the resources she needed to make her vision a reality. The staff were so invested in the initiative that they took complete ownership of it. And it wasn’t long before my team could step back and watch the organization run with the project and continue to develop it on their own terms.

It was then that it occurred to me that none of the community development workers who’d intervened before, including my team, had ever fully investigated what the employees cared about most or what they wanted to do.

We had made a classic mistake: we came into an unknown territory, included only a fraction of the stakeholders in the planning process, and made a snap decision about how to fix a problem that wasn’t meaningful to the people who were impacted the most.

I realized that what we need is a mindshift: we are not the experts. The true experts are the people on the receiving end of the change. When we empower them through collaboration, they are more likely to take ownership of the change initiative. And as any community development worker will tell you, ownership is a prerequisite to meaningful and sustainable change.

This mistake isn’t exclusive to the realm of community development, but also occurs often in organizational change initiatives. In fact, a study by McKinsey & Company revealed that three out of four successful change management programs substantially or entirely included stakeholders in the early planning and shaping of their change initiatives.

But stakeholder engagement often represents a logistical challenge, as it’s best handled in a high-touch manner. So how do you do it at scale?

A solution to stakeholder engagement

At Cognician we recently developed a program that explores the psychology of change. In particular, we built on the theory of appreciative inquiry, which suggests that people respond better to change when they’re involved throughout as collaborators and stakeholders.

Just as this organization’s change initiative was more successful when elicited from those with a vested interest, our client was looking for a way to deliberately gather input from all stakeholders in their change program. Unlike the above example, though, they couldn’t achieve this result with one-on-one conversations. Instead, we used digital coaching to allow teams across geographies to reflect on how change is affecting them and others. They were then able to explore methods of involving others in change programs early on, helping them to take ownership and activate behavior change.

Planning your change initiative: 5 questions every CLO should ask

• What can you do to find out about your stakeholders’ needs?
• How can you empower your people to take ownership of your company’s change initiatives?
• How could you use digital coaching to increase the engagement of stakeholders?
• How does your change program promote collaboration?
• How will you measure the success of your change initiative?