Make Change That Lasts

by Allan Ung

Change is the only constant

Change is the only constant.

~ Heraclictus , Greek Philosopher

Change is the only constant in the work environment.

Whether you are shifting office to another location, adopting a new practice or process, implementing an IT system, or re-engineering the business processes for an organization, change happens to everyone all the time.

However, many change initiatives have been short-lived as a result of the failure to manage and sustain the change.

For change to be successful and enduring, do take note of the key factors impacting change below:

1. Commitment from the top

To manage a change initiative, e.g. Lean transformation, there has to be constant commitment from the top management.

Conduct regular management reviews of the change implementation progress versus the plan to ensure that the roadmap and scope of change is well-defined, timelines or key milestones are adhered to, and resources such as people, time and money are put in place where they are needed.

2. Future state vision

Define and rally around a compelling vision for the future state. What are the potential threats? How urgent is the change? What are the risks if the organization does not change? How will you know when we get there?

Present the facts and findings such as flat earnings, rising costs, decreasing market share, and other relevant key indicators where necessary to create awareness and convince employees to buy-in to the change initiative.

Identify the key resistance issues and stakeholders who are impacted by the change and address them. Be prepared to deal with emotional and political issues.

Create a compelling vision and an urgency for change so as to move people out from their comfort zones to a change in behavior and the way they value-add to the business and customers.

3. Communication

Communicate the vision to middle management and staff regularly with the right messages targeted at the right groups and at the right time.

Communicate fully and honestly describing changes that will take place as well as the reasons for them.

"Town hall" sessions, round-tables, huddles, newsletters, emails from top management, etc. are various communication platforms that can be used. Do not limit to one congregational meeting, a ministerial-type sermon or a single mail out from the CEO.

Get feedback from employees on how they see the change issues and what ideas they can offer to resolve them.

You need to walk the talk if people are going to perceive the effort as important. Engage in behaviors desired of employees, and make it clear that you are totally committed to the change and you expect the same from them as well.

Utilize all available channels of communication and opportunity.

4. Policy deployment

One of the main reasons why many change initiatives do not last is because the deployment process is not institutionalized.

A Policy Deployment (Hoshin Kanri) process is a very useful approach that can be implemented to ensure that every function, every process and every individual are aligned to the vision and objectives that the organization wants to achieve.

With such a mechanism, the vision and objectives can be cascaded down to every department, every team and to every individual with clear accountabilities and targets.

Review achievements against the respective targets for the teams and individuals regularly to ensure that the change initiative is focused, aligned and stays on track.

5. Change strategy and infrastructure

Define the change strategy and the change programs required (e.g. how to create awareness, how to communicate, what training programs, what pilot projects to start with, etc.). Consolidate the change management plan.

Identify the tangible and intangible results to be achieved at the end of the change process. How does success look like? Assess the need to invest in additional resources (e.g. more people) to support the change program.

For changes affecting an organization, setting up a change management team is necessary. A change management team is a cross-functional team comprising:

A core team made up of a steering committee (e.g. senior executives),

A working team (e.g. functional managers).

A team of change agents, i.e. change champions from each operations unit affected by the change; The change agents also act as link-pins between the operations units and the core team.

6. Training and education

Review the relevant business functions and work processes impacted by the change to determine the new skill requirements for the stakeholders.

To enable the various stakeholders to perform to the requirements expected from the change initiative, the following steps may be helpful:

Identify the required training needs

Consolidate the training plan

Design and develop the training packages

Review the training material specifications with customers to obtain feedback and clarity of the contents and structural aspects of the training programs, if necessary

Consider pilot testing the training material and conduct training dry-run for new trainers if applicable

Conduct training and collect training feedback

Review feedback from participants and instructors and fine-tune training plan, training schedule and training programs

7. Empowerment

Test the new approach with one or more pilot teams and prove that new ways are better than the old.

Involve your employees in the problem solving or process improvement and empower them as necessary. If they know that they are an active part of the solution, they can identify opportunities that you might not even be aware of.

Highlight the tangible and intangible benefits or quick wins as a result of implementing the new practice/process/system to gain wider acceptance. Follow up on areas for improvement and unresolved issues.

Draw learning points as reference for subsequent processes and/or systems and for mass implementations.

8. Sustain the momentum

For change to last, it has to be part of your organization's culture. The core values need to embrace change and be demonstrated by the leadership and employees in their day-to-day activities.

When hiring and training new staff, ensure that the change ideals and core values are included in the selection criteria and training programs respectively.

Publicize quick wins and success stories in your communication sessions.

Recognize key members of the steering and working committees, outstanding change agents, teams and individuals that have contributed to the objectives of the change initiatives. Create a "hall of fame" to recognize the contributions of old and new employees.

Develop succession plans to replace key leaders of change as they move on.

Review the change management process and draw the lessons learned and incorporate them in new change programs/initiatives as part of continuous improvement.

Finally, with proper planning and having the necessary foundations in place, change can be managed more easily and successfully.

If you are able to implement the key factors mentioned above, you can help to ingrain change as part of your cultural fabric. When you are able to create sustainable change, only then that you can realize the fruits of your vision.

Article by Allan Ung, Managing Consultant of Operational Excellence Consulting, a Singapore-based management consultancy firm that assists organizations in maximizing customer value and minimizing wastes through adoption of Lean management practices. For more information, please visit