The single most important factor for successful change in any organization, regardless of the organization, is leadership effectiveness and trustworthiness of leadership. That’s why it’s so important that you acquire the right leadership skills to bring change about.

Formal and informal organizational change

When changes needed many organizational leaders reach for a formal improvement process. There are very popular these days, and there’s lots of them, and you may be familiar with methods like Lean Thinking, Six Sigma, Ford’s Quality Operating System, Kaizen, Total Quality Management or Reengineering, just to name a few.

Other leaders use some less formal methods which can give into aggression and even be confrontational in nature. They send out forceful demanding emails, they give passionate burning platform pep talks, they engage in screaming her fist pounding her fear mongering or issue mandates from on high that school something like this now go and do.

All of these methods are capable of creating a flurry of activity but unless they are applied in an effective and perceptive way there are likely to produce desired and sustainable change what it is real change.

Real organizational change

In fact it’s been estimated that only around 20% of all organizational change initiatives achieve their desired outcomes. Which is a pretty sobering thought.

That means 80% of the time instead of changing leaders who are trying to achieve change are actually wasting time frustrating people losing credibility and burning precious organizational resources and there is some interesting research that suggests a lot of traditional approaches to change are woefully inadequate if an organization is serious about change and changing fast.

The 3 R’s

Alan Deutschman – a journalist, professor and author – learned that one cardiologist told her coronary bypass patients that they needed to change their diets stop smoking get regular exercise control alcohol consumption and work to reduce stress to avoid a second surgery only 1/9 patients or 11% were able to make the necessary lifestyle changes.

He chronicled these and other research findings in a book entitled “Change or die” and found that: facts, fear and force alone don’t drive real and sustainable change in people’s lives, and this bears repeating: facts fear, and force alone do not cause real change to happen in people’s lives or in organizations for that matter.

What Deutschman did find was that for people to change they had to overcome inertia, old habits, and previously failed efforts and he introduce three dynamics that must be in place for real change to take place he called them the 3Rs:

  • relate,
  • repeat and
  • reframe.

Dynamic 1: Relate

According to Deutschman if we are to change we must have a strong relationship with someone that will come alongside of us to inspire us and give us hope that the change we need to make is possible. He found that we all need a trusted soul to continuously remind us that we are capable of making the change and to provide us with accountability and encouragement.

To really change, we need someone who can relate to us during the change process. That person needs to be someone we trust who can help us get focused and stay focused on what were trying to accomplish, and that person will even be more valuable if he or she can provide us with a well conceived strategy or game plan to make the change actually happened.

We all need an action plan that we can believe in that we can own and understand. So in the case of organizational change having a leader that we can trust who has both the character and competency that can help us forge a real plan for action can be the difference between success and failure.

Dynamic 2: Repeat

For real change to happen, according to Deutschman, we also need to repeat. With direction from the person who is guiding us to the change we need to learn practice and master the activities and actions that will allow the change that we are actually trying to make to come to fruition.

Real change requires new skills and habits and to acquire these things requires training coaching, feedback and accountability. When we acquire the needed talent to support change we need to repeat and repeat and repeat those actions and we need to do this until they become habits.

And when were trying to change we need to acquire the specific skills that drive change and then we need coaching and feedback to reinforce the change so that we can repeat those behaviors until they become part of our work lifestyles and what we all like to call habits.

So people leading us through the change process need to be great teachers and coaches but think of how often we simply throw people in organizational change initiatives with little if any preparation and virtually no focus on their talent and skill development.

Dynamic 3: Reframe

For any change process to work people need the skills and talents necessary to support the change Deutschman final R is to reframe  and by this he means that the person helping us to the change must help us form a new way of thinking about and understanding our situation in the change behaviors that we are currently engaging in.

Reframing is needed to help people move from thinking and saying “I hate this change” or “Why do we have to do this again” to “this change is gonna put us in a better position” or “the benefits of this change are really needed”. Reframing in the context of organizational change is critically important help people understand why changes are needed and necessary and to adapt their thinking to support these efforts.

Relate, repeat and reframe

Deutschman found that when these three principles: relate, repeat and reframe were applied to coronary bypass patients in a controlled research study the success rate for making the necessary and major healthy lifestyle changes jump from 11% to an astounding 78%.

Deutschman’s approach takes more time and effort and energy but in the end the change is real and sustainable which should be the goal of each and every organizational and individual change effort we engage in. So, to summarize facts, force and fear don’t do a lot to drive real healthy and sustainable change but relating, repeating and reframing do.