Change Success: The Big Secret

By Brian Gorman, Change Mentor and Professional Coach

Change isn’t about technology, or policies and procedures, or… Everything that drives change is a catalyst. Change is about people. The most brilliant solution doesn’t deliver on its promise unless people change the way they think and act.

That’s an important foundation to keep in mind, but it’s not the big secret of change success. The big secret is regardless of the catalyst, there are a universal set of responses to change. They will show up differently in different organizations, in different countries, in different parts of the same organization; nonetheless, they will universally show up. If you know the patterns, your chances of successfully navigating them improve substantially.

There are several different change management models. Any model that is based on a sound understanding of the universal patterns can be of help as long as it is able to encompass the demands of your change and is applied with both courage and discipline. The model that I use is based on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. It has either five or six elements to it, depending on the level of disruption the change will be causing and the size of the organization.

  • Create the change story
  • Prepare for the change; with larger changes in larger organizations this gets broken down into “prepare the leaders” and “prepare the organization”
  • Plan the change
  • Take the change journey
  • Live the new reality

The remainder of this article focuses on a few of the most important lessons I have learned about change, the ones that I see tripping up major change most often.

Create the Change Story
Your change story should be written from the future. Not, “When we…” but “Now that we have…” The story should use language everyone can understand, clearly stating the intent of the change, and describing what the change journey will be like. It should highlight a small number of critical milestones along the way. Tough changes only succeed when people are “all in,” not just mentally, but in their hearts and guts. The change story can make the difference.

Prepare for the Change
We all need anchors; during really big change, it can feel like we are totally adrift. What are the anchors people can hold onto when it feels like everything is changing? Call them out and help maintain a focus on them. They may be organizational (or personal) values, or job titles, or reporting hierarchy. What is important to those being affected by the change that is not changing? It may be an anchor.

What gets stopped so that people can start whatever the change is introducing? It is not uncommon during change to focus on “start” and “continue;” successful change also requires “stop.”

Plan the Journey
All too often, the change that is planned and executed is not the change that was promised. For example, it is vital that you put in place all the key elements of a new CRM system: the hardware, the software, the policies and procedures, the training. But, if the promise is for more than a new system (e.g. increased customer loyalty), you may also require shifts in employee attitudes. Ensure that you not only have installation metrics and milestones; you also need to plan for and track progress toward realization of the full benefits that are expected.

Don’t “dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t.’” Change doesn’t go according to plan. Keep your plans detailed in the near-term, and more high-level in the future. Anchor your plan with your milestones, then make planning how to achieve them a rolling activity.

Take the Change Journey
Resistance isn’t a sign of something wrong, it is a sign of progress. Even those who thought this change would be the best thing since sliced bread may end up resisting it. When we begin large-scale change, we don’t know what we don’t know. And, we don’t have a clue how tough it may become. Don’t suppress resistance, surface it and address it.

Risks are real. Mistakes will happen. Surfacing risks early provides the greatest opportunity to mitigate them. Acknowledging mistakes allows you to learn from them. Two of the biggest mistakes are concealing risks and not admitting mistakes.

Live the New Reality
Take time to reflect on the journey, capture its lessons, and determine how you will apply them on the next change you face.


One More Secret…
While the focus here is on organizational change, remember, it is actually about people changing. These lessons apply to your personal life as well.

About Brian Gorman
Brian has spent more than 45 years as a student of, and engaged with, change. He has supported Fortune 50 companies undergoing transformation as well as individuals experiencing major transitions in their lives. He recently led a 2-1/2-year project to develop a Strategy Execution Playbook for an international consulting firm. As an independent contractor, Brian works with small businesses, nonprofits, and individuals as they prepare for and execute major change. In his weekly blog, Change Mentor, Brian shares more of the lessons he has learned along the way.

Brian Gorman


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