How many changes are going on in your organization right now? Does anyone even know? It’s a global organizational epidemic. Virtually every organization has too much going on--too many business changes, too many priorities, causing too much organizational stress. Activity is seductive, because everyone is very busy and activity can be self-reinforcing. But are people busy doing the right things for long-term organizational success? And what price is the organization paying for the stress of an over-abundance of priorities?
The Role of Sponsors
One of the most difficult messages we deliver to senior leaders is that they need to focus down to speed up. There is so much emphasis and time invested in the design of the right strategies. It’s worth remembering that only 15% of the work effort is complete when the strategy is designed; 85% of the effort is in the implementation of the strategy. As we say, implementation is a “ferociously resource-consuming” activity and it’s where the really hard work is.
So when organizations commit to large-scale, complex changes like organization transformation, leaders need to have their eyes open on the need for prioritization. It’s not unusual for senior leaders to agree to scale back priorities while they are in the room together—and then business change projects and programs start multiplying again like rabbits within just a few weeks. Sometimes leaders will try and lump several business change projects under one program, so that it appears to be a single business change project.
The fact remains, though, that organizational transformation changes are difficult enough, but when there is too much going on, with too few resources, implementation of business changes slows down, and trust erodes.
There is a long-term price to be paid for the erosion of trust, because future implementations are impacted as well. For the senior leaders who are the sponsors of these changes, this is not a soft, squishy concern. Trust and speed are functional; when trust erodes, implementation slows down.
Five Key Reminders on the Impact of Stress
When we work with sponsors, there are some key points that almost universally bear repeating. Sponsors need to be reminded that they control the pace of change in the organization more than any other factor. Their ability, both individually and collectively, to prioritize can have a major impact on the speed of change.
- If you have more than five to seven major priorities, you have no priorities
- No business change occurs in isolation; it occurs in the context of all the other changes going on in the organization at the same time
- Change leads to disruption and stress. The greater the stress, the higher the likelihood of implementation failure, and the greater the need for a structured approach like AIM
- Stress and disruption are cumulative over time
- Be aware that your change is not the only change going on in the organization
Sponsors who are able to say “no” or “not now” can be making a major contribution to the organization’s long-term implementation success.