4 Reasons Your Changes Aren't Sticking
Updated: Sep 26
I've heard the story countless times. A leader implements the “perfect” solution – new technology or a new process – guaranteed to increase profit margins by 20%, reduce errors by 80%, or otherwise result in phenomenal business performance. It should, but it doesn’t. Why? Because no one is following the new process or using the new technology. It’s a frustrating and costly experience for clients who have invested substantial resources to bring about change that doesn’t happen. Here are a few reasons process improvements don’t stick, and what you can do about it.
One – You didn’t get buy-in from the team who would be doing the work.
Change management starts at the ‘ideas collection’ phase of a process change, not at implementation. Engage the people who will be doing the work early and often. As you work through the design of the process, listen to their concerns – they are probably valid, and even if you feel they are not, they still need to be addressed.
Involving people in the design phase of a process helps them overcome fear of change, which is really about fear of uncertainty and a resulting lack of control. When you involve people in planning, you give them back a sense of control. This, in turn, minimizes fear and increases buy-in.
Two – You didn’t create a strong enough sense of urgency.
In John Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change, the first step is to create a sense of urgency. Before we go further, I want to make one thing clear – urgency should not equate to anxiety. You aren’t trying to scare people. You need them to understand why the change is essential.
One of the best ways to create a sense of urgency is to develop a culture that values continual improvement. Make discussing ideas for improvement a regular agenda item in your meetings. Teach employees how to solve problems as a team and empower them to share ideas that further strategic goals.
If you’ve already rolled out a process that flopped, however, you don’t want to wait for a new culture to take hold. Improve your change adoption rate by explaining why the change is important. What benefit do you expect? What risk does it mitigate? What will happen to the business if the change isn’t a success?
Three – There are unknown barriers to adoption.
There’s something in the way of your employees being able to embrace the new change. Employees may need training or clarification on the expectations. Your incentive plan could be misaligned. There may be a problem in the process flow or with the functioning of the technology. To investigate possible barriers to change (1) watch the process in action and (2) talk to employees about what’s getting in their way. When people realize you are legitimately looking to understand their point of view, they tend to open up.
Four – You’re not holding people accountable.
According to Jonathan Raymond, the author of Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For, accountability is a “long-term personal conversation between manager and employee.” It’s not about punishment or blame, it’s about coaching, agreeing upon expectations, and discussing the situation. While working with one business struggling to get a recent change to stick, I suggested we create a report that captured any file where it looked like a new technology should have been used but wasn’t. The manager argued that there might be good reason why it wasn’t used in some situations. I explained that she had the right idea. We taught leaders to begin discussions with the premise that there was a good reason for why the new process wasn’t being used and asked employees to explain that reasoning. This educated us on unknown barriers (see number three), provided an opportunity to coach to a mindset change, and created accountability. Leaders didn’t wag fingers of disapproval. Instead, they began a personal conversation about behavior and expectations, and it turned results around.
Change doesn’t happen without considerable attention to the human element. It’s necessary to consider how a change will be received, interpreted, and implemented by employees. If you don’t often make changes in your business, ensuring successful implementation on the first few improvements will seem like heavy lifting. However, each effective execution you make will build the “change muscle” in your business, making lifting easier and your team stronger.