Despite decades of research and ongoing investment, Organizational Change Management (OCM) initiatives at Fortune 1000 companies have overwhelmingly failed to deliver on promised outcomes. Rather than experiencing successful employee adoption and benefiting from a happier, more skilled workforce, many organizations find themselves challenged by the same needs that they faced before making a change. This disappointingly low success rate raises an important question for business leaders: “What’s up with change management, and why isn’t it working?”

Having witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly, I’ve taken a step back to evaluate my own experiences with OCM and identify the essential ingredients of a successful strategy. Every OCM initiative—whether effective or unproductive—begins and ends with people. Employees are the lifeblood of an organization, and their attitudes and actions set the tone for organizational success or failure. Yet the unfortunate reality is that most employees are not only unhappy with change, but they’re frustrated with work in its entirety. In 2012, Forbes showcased the finding of a Right Management Survey of employees in the United States, revealing that nearly 65% were dissatisfied with their current job. It is this climate of discontentment that makes change management such a challenging—and rewarding—endeavor.

Tough Times Call for Unconventional Measures

Knowing the challenges of the past and understanding the transformative impact that successful change management can have, I’ve uncovered three common sense keys to navigating organizational change in a climate of uncertainty.

1. Leverage everyday data. Spend time in the right places listening to the right conversations, picking up on the subtle signals that people send. Careful observation reveals critical data about how employees feel, and what they plan on bringing (or not bringing) to the table. Whether it’s an unexpected request for increased pay, or a lackluster response to a new assignment, employees are communicating how they feel whether they mean to or not. If you’re paying attention, this data can shine a spotlight on organizational pain points and provide a roadmap for creating sustainable change.

2. Uncover real needs, and meet them. Rather than thinking of change management as a top-down transfer of knowledge, consider it an information gathering exercise—one where stakeholders are given ample opportunities to express their ideas and participate in the process. Nobody understands the day to day challenges of a job better than the individuals performing it. If given ongoing opportunities to think through and share their needs in a neutral environment, people will provide valuable insights into improving culture and optimizing process.

3. Stay in it to win it. Change is not for the faint of heart. It requires an unwavering commitment from those who wish to see it actualized. To achieve long-term sustainability, business leaders must continuously revisit their key initiatives, checking for alignment with the long-term OCM vision as well as progress toward meeting short-term benchmarks.

Despite its challenges, OCM serves an essential function for businesses seeking long-term sustainability in rapidly changing environments. Knowing that change is both inevitable and unpredictable, OCM serves a critical role in shaping the future of businesses and organizations looking to thrive and reach their long-term goals.

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