Change management emerged as a business buzzword over the last decade. But “change malaise” is rampant in organisations now, with employees growing weary of change initiatives.

A 2011 study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) found that 77 per cent of organisations launched more than two change initiatives over the prior 12 months. And 47 per cent increased, some significantly, resources for significant change initiatives.

Increased resources and time spent on change are fine if they yield results. But most respondents felt that no greater than half of their change initiatives were successful.

What does this mean to businesses? We believe strategies designed to boost revenue, reduce costs, and regain market share will shrivel in the face of strong organisational inertia if strategic change initiatives are unable to gain traction.

So what is causing the problem? When asked, “What is the most important measure in determining whether a change initiative has been successful in your organisation?” the answer was, “Behaviour change in the organisation”.

 By applying a systemic approach to changing behaviours across thousands of employees, companies can reap significant results — to the tune of tripling sales of complex products  and double-digit spikes in their customer engagement index.

Behaviour change initiatives often fail because for many corporate learning systems, the distribution of investment does not align with where business impact is derived. The overwhelming majority invest their time, energy and budget almost exclusively in formal learning “events”.

These events, which comprise the “equip” phase in a learning process, form the second part of a three-phased learning approach. The two other important phases — “align” and “sustain” — are often ignored.

 Aligning stakeholders in the importance of, and their role in, behaviour change, and sustaining learning by applying tools, metrics and other reinforcement methods to make learning “stick”, are critical phases.

Robert Brinkerhoff, an internationally recognised expert in training evaluation and effectiveness, suggested the 40/20/40 rule, in terms of giving priority to these three phases.

 If we focus on and invest in the aligning and sustaining stages of learning, we would be able to effect behaviour changes that drive performance improvement.

Measurement strategy

To sustain behaviour change, senior stakeholders must agree on which behaviours will drive execution of their strategy, and how those behaviours will be measured. The importance of this step cannot be overstated.

With many strong opinions and agenda within an organisation, it is critical to get the right people in on one conversation: executive sponsors, business leaders, subject-matter experts, core team members, people playing analytics roles, and people representing marketing, finance, and strategy functions. Bringing everyone onto the same page crystallises the strategy and drives commitment.

 The team can then create a concrete plan of action for creating and measuring behaviour change, including key metrics, how they will be tracked and by whom, and how the results will be reported to stakeholders.

 The benefits of this approach are: the measurement and sustainment strategy is grounded in reality, the strategy is viewed as credible, and clear roles and responsibilities help the team move quickly and efficiently from talk to action. After agreeing on the over arching and measurement strategy, it is time to execute.

Content and methods 

After gaining alignment, choose the learning methodology and content that will equip people with the skills they need to support the change.

Consider traditional classroom experiences and beyond. It is critical to extend learning into work through approaches such as action learning projects and re-connects, thus providing applied learning and dialogue to drive additional learning.

In addition to e-learning, podcasts and web classrooms, social media provides important and powerful tools to advance behaviour change.

By driving the development of extended and blended learning solutions, participants build a solid foundation of skill and knowledge, allowing them to adopt the behaviours required to execute the change.

Sustaining change

Effective leaders know that the sustainment phase has the most impact on behaviour change. To determine which sustainment strategies will work at an organisational, managerial and individual level, executive sponsors, line leaders, L&D consultants, and HR business partners need to work together to sculpt an approach best suited to the organisation.

It’s not easy. Many organisations are doing more with less — more change initiatives with fewer resources — than ever before.

Organisational and marketplace complexity has also spiked. In complex environments where people can barely describe what their organisation does, it can be an uphill battle to get mindshare and time from learners or their managers to make specific changes happen.

Fortunately, organisations are discovering new and effective methods of driving behaviour change that extend beyond the formal learning event and create significantly increased accountability, measurability and results in unique organisational contexts.

 

Article by Cynthia Stuckey, managing director (Asia-Pacific) of Forum, a leading global provider of learning solutions that focus on people to transform business performance. For more information, visit www.forumasiapacific.com.sg