10 Reasons Change Succeeds or Fails: Mobilized and Engaged Pivotal Groups

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.  The ninth factor is mobilized and engaged pivotal groups.

In the previous post, we talked about the importance of senior leaders’ ability and willingness to change.  While it is critical that the senior leaders model the appropriate behavior change, the organization also needs to enroll other key influencers to have change filter down through the organization.  Companies that are most effective at driving change do an exceptional job of engaging leaders across the organization to help effect the desired outcomes.  How are these organizations approaching pivotal individuals and groups to achieve successful outcomes?

First, carefully consider which group(s) are pivotal for early success of any change initiative.  This helps focus resources for maximum impact.  Like a wave, the change initiative ultimately needs to spread across the organization – but these organizations think carefully about where to initiate the activity.  These starting places become the source of energy for change to spread.  The identification of pivotal groups may be driven by tipping points in the customer experience, strategic importance, or organizational influence.

Second, these organizations understand that they must engage both the formal and informal leaders.  In the early stages of the change initiative, they actively recruit informal leaders to act as “change champions.”  Informal leaders may or may not have position power, but they possess something more important: social power and influence that other employees take signals from and respect.  Ideally, these are individuals who already are aware of – and desire – the needed change.  This coalition of willing, engaged, and respected individuals allows you to jump-start the change initiative.  They set the tone for the change ahead and model new behaviors both within and around the existing organizational hierarchy.  Later, as the change program is more clearly defined, it is time to engage the broader formal leadership hierarchy.

Third, actively engage these influential leaders in the change process.  Listen to their ideas.  Allow them to take the initiative to test changes.  If you have selected the right leaders, they will surprise you with their energy, ideas, and commitment.  Even after you have a more clearly defined change program, and are enrolling the entire organization through more formal channels, encourage leaders to work together to tailor the change to their department’s needs.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, where change initiatives do not take hold as planned or hoped for, are organizations where leaders feel that they lack the right leadership talent throughout the organization to inspire and influence change.  They often rely exclusively on the existing formal organizational hierarchy, which may be resistant to the change or slow to grasp the intended impacts.  Or they depend on the heroics of a few – and expect change without providing appropriate support or resources to front-line advocates.  These organizations also allow a few vocal critics to undermine change efforts – or succumb to the indifference of middle management.

Where is your organization on this spectrum?  If you don’t feel that you do a good job of mobilizing and engaging pivotal groups, consider the following:

  • Have we considered which groups are pivotal to early success?
  • Can we identify the informal leaders who can be change champions?
  • Are we willing to empower and support these leaders to drive change?
  • Have we devoted sufficient time and resources to prepare our formal leadership hierarchy to support the change?