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The Art of Making Change Initiatives Stick

Too many managers are burned out on strategic change. They have lived through the scenario in which the CEO announces a bold initiative designed to dramatically lift performance. The initiative calls for sweeping changes in the company’s processes, systems and culture; it unfolds with great fanfare and large resource investments. Later, managers look back and wonder what went wrong. Even when there are some short-term gains, it’s common for the organization to slip back into old ways of doing things. Employees typically dismiss the initiative as just another “flavor of the month” exercise.
This article argues for a system that enables change initiatives to stick. The authors use a detailed case study (a large clothing retailer disguised as “Apparelizm Corp.”) to demonstrate what it takes to produce sustainable changes in processes, behavior or performance. The study uncovered four critical processes — chartering, learning, mobilizing and realigning — that pave the way for successful institutionalization of a strategic change initiative. The elements rely much more on an understanding of the mix of task-related, emotional and behavioral factors than is fashionable in today’s metrics-driven environment.
The article also highlights the study’s divergence from conventional wisdom about programmatic change. Whereas most prior research has emphasized early articulation of a sense of urgency, the authors found that managers need to set in motion a series of processes right at the start if widespread changes are to stick. They must reshape the organizational structure, demonstrate that processes are fair and legitimate, and employ a range of open approaches to engage people’s emotions if they want strategic initiatives to become more than the latest flavor of the month.

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