10 Reasons Change Succeeds or Fails: Clear Performance Focus

See all of the 10 Reasons Change Succeeds or Fails posts here. And download the full whitepaper here

We have found that there are ten factors that determine the success or failure of any organizational change.  In this series, we will examine each of these factors.  Having already explored creating awareness through creation of a compelling case for change and specific change criteria, we will now turn to the fourth factor:  creating a clear performance focus.

Organizations that are most effective at driving change recognize the importance of creating a clear performance focus.  This seems like something every organization should want, so what makes some organizations so much better at creating this focus?

First, effective organizations create focus around a limited number of clear and measurable objectives – ideally grounded in what is required to win from a customer point of view.  They ensure that those objectives include a mix of both leading and lagging indicators.  If necessary, they will develop new measurement systems to support the change initiative.

Second, these organizations drive “buy-in” throughout the organization.  They help their employees understand what is required from them to help drive the change and “what is in it” for them.  They gain a commitment from each employee for a few activities that link back to the desired change objectives.  Employees are crystal clear about how they will be evaluated.

Third, these organizations are disciplined about measuring both activities and objective outcomes on a frequent basis.  They incorporate those measurements into dashboards that allow the organizations to easily assess whether they are making adequate progress or falling behind.

Finally, effective organizations hold themselves accountable.  They don’t make excuses or change the measurement system to fit their desires.  They “own” the results – and act on them.  Leaders within these organizations ensure that there is alignment in how they evaluate the organizational, individual (and their own) performance against these objectives.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are organizations that lack a clear performance focus.  They may fail to establish clear objectives tied to change they are attempting to make, or they establish so many objectives that the organization lacks focus.  They allow circumstances to shift their focus throughout the year away from what they had declared as their important objectives.  They may lack the measurement systems to effectively assess progress or performance – so that any outcome becomes acceptable.  They fail to create clear linkages between the desired outcomes and “what’s in it for me” for their employees.  Finally, they forgive failures and slippage and fail to hold themselves (and everyone else in the organization) accountable for outcomes on these critical objectives.

Where is your organization on this spectrum?  If you don’t feel that you have a clear performance focus to support the change you desire, spending additional time here will be a worthwhile investment before moving forward.   Specifically:

  • Define what success is from your target customer’s point of view, not your internal standards. Think “outside-in” vs. “inside-out.”
  • Create clarity about a key few objectives. What is your “wildly important goal”?
  • Recruit commitment from across the organization. Ask each employee what they can commit to doing to help achieve the goals.
  • Ensure clarity about your measurement system. Create a dashboard to provide a concise view of progress.
  • Create a timeline. What needs to change first and by when?
  • Be explicit about how you will reward success and punish failure to perform. Develop methods to evolve your criteria as you learn from the experience.
  • Ensure alignment between your goals and your performance evaluation system. Modify your performance management system as appropriate.
  • As leaders, model how to demonstrate accountability – both for your own commitments and the broader results.