For your IT organization to stay relevant, stop thinking of change as a process to manage. Engage people who must be led, writes Randy Pennington.

Change leadership in ITSeventy percent of all change efforts fail to achieve their desired results. John Kotter shared that statistic in 1995, and it remains a truth today. Think of all the books, articles, speeches, and workshops that you have seen or attended since that time. Don’t you think we would be better at change by now?

The sad reality is that change—as it is addressed in most organizations—fails because it is over-managed and under-led.

Your IT group can’t stay relevant to the business unless you can make change work. That can’t be accomplished until you stop thinking of change as a process to be managed and start viewing it as an opportunity to engage people who must be led.

Here are four ideas to help.

  1. Change the way you think and talk about change.

Fill in the blank: Organizations change when _________.
If your initial response was “when things aren’t going well,” there is an opportunity to change your perspective on change. You change a light bulb when it burns out. Athletic teams change coaches when the consistently lose. Teams that can quickly identify, anticipate, and adapt are the winners in a world where business demands change overnight.
Action idea: Examine the language you use to describe and promote change. Are new ideas encouraged or ridiculed? Are changes only discussed from the perspective of a crisis to be averted, or do you reinforce opportunities for proactive improvement? Our language reflects our thinking, and when it comes to leading change, our thinking drives our action.
“Remember that people support and take positive action to change for their reasons, not yours.”
  1. Connect with people where they are.

A report by Scott Keller and Carolyn Aiken at McKinsey & Company suggests that 80 percent of what leaders care about and talk about when trying to enlist support for change does not matter to 80 percent of the workforce. Buy-in is critical for success in every change. You must connect with people where they are.
Action idea: People support what they help create. Involve others in crafting and implementing solutions. Most important, remember that people support and take positive action to change for their reasons, not yours. Do the hard work of communicating the need and opportunity for change based on what is important to those from whom you need support. Compliance can be mandated, but commitment is volunteered.
  1. Use resistance as your friend.

The normal reaction to resistance is emotion. They push you, and you want to push back. You try to reason with the resistors. If that doesn’t work, you resort to bargaining, manipulation, using power to mandate compliance, or ignoring the people and the problem.
Action idea: If there is no resistance, there is no change. Ask questions and listen. Be patient and realize that the concerns raised by a few are probably shared by others. Doing so allows you to identify potential barriers to making change work and increases your odds of building support.
  1. Go first.

All change creates moments of instability and anxiety. Substantial change that comes at you in waves can either make you bold or make you timid. Timid organizations don’t anticipate the future. Timid people don’t invest in themselves or take the actions that enable them to quickly adapt.
Action idea: Those that you seek to influence want you to be bold. Focus on adding so much value that anxiety and fear are minimized. Strategically invest in the future, and inspire hope.

Change rarely fails because of a faulty process. It often fails because of people-related reasons. We increase our opportunities for success when we invest less time managing change and more time leading it.

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