11 Tips to Recover from Unsuccessful Transformation Efforts

Photo by Quino Al on  Unsplash

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

If you have ever taken on a substantive change or major transformation, you know that such pursuits always almost always invite some resistance and hesitation. If the initiative has been tried and failed before, you have even a bigger challenge on your hand. You might hear the initiative being referred to as another “program of the month,” or be told by someone in the organization that they have “tried that before and it didn’t work.” Needless to say, convincing naysayers to become enthusiastic advocates for change in situations like this can seem like an insurmountable challenge. But there are some things you can do that can help, and I’d like to suggest a few in this post.

This attitude and resistance to change is often the greatest barrier to progress because when it comes to implementing change effectively; the technology and functional skills to make the change happen are hardly ever the bottleneck. The issue is almost always related to the organizational and cultural aspects of making the transition stick and, in that regard, the solution is hardly ever some brand new innovative solution no one has ever thought of. Rather, the solution must address the question of how to effectively execute those things that have been tried and for some reason not worked in the past. Hence, overcoming the real or perceived resistance to trying anything that has been tried unsuccessfully in the past holds the key to breakthrough results and unprecedented fulfillment.

It’s true that some people are chronic naysayers and they use this mindset as an excuse to not even try, either because of natural pessimism or because they are so afraid of failure—and success—that they almost don’t want certain efforts to succeed. However, this group is a very small percentage of the population, and so don’t spend too much time agonizing over them. On the other hand, if you have a large number of people who appear to be indifferent to or disinterested in your change effort, it is probably an indication that they have seen their leaders initiate improvement efforts and abandon them in the past, and have little reason to believe this time will be any different. It could also be because a certain effort has been tried with the best of intentions, albeit without great results, and people in the organization see no reason to have faith that the re-launch of the same effort is going to change anything. They want to believe the effort is sincere and the leaders will remain committed once the excitement wears off, but they have been burned before and only a fool would willingly stick their hand in the fire again.

Clearly, it is much easier to start with a clean sheet than to struggle to make a case for the merits of an initiative that has been tried and failed. In the former scenario, you are from pre-conceived notions about the initiative or the leaders who are advocating for it, while in the latter, you have an uphill battle of rebuilding the credibility of the people who are perceived to have been responsible for past failures. However, this doesn’t mean we can never resurrect a great initiative that simply wasn’t executed properly in the past. Nor does it necessitate us giving up on transformative efforts until all memory of previous failures and false-starts has disappeared. What it does mean is that if we are serious about re-launching an initiative that has left a bad taste in people’s mouths, we should recognize the size of the challenge, become very intentional about directly addressing the constraints of the past, and offer up compelling reasons to have faith in the new initiative.

Having been involved in a few turnarounds where we had to put behind us many memories of actual behaviors that caused people to lose faith in leadership, I learned a thing or two about how to beat the odds. By applying the tips below, we were able to create an even stronger culture than there was before the change effort, one that delivered breakthrough results and unprecedented fulfillment.

Here are a few suggestions for you to consider next time you get ready to get your organization re-energized and re-engaged in implementing an initiative they have doubts about:

1.      Acknowledge the past failures and take responsibility. If you don’t do this well, none of the other steps will do any good. People need to hear it loud and clear from you that there were failures in the past and that you take responsibility for either having created them, or having contributed to them, or at the very least having tolerated them. Whatever words you use to convey this need to leave people knowing in no uncertain terms that you consider yourself responsible.

2.      Publicly commit to understanding what went wrong in the past and ensuring that countermeasures are in place to learn from the past mistakes. Then, actually apply those learnings to the current effort.

3.      Make bold declarations about the results the initiative is going to produce and the difference it will make for various stakeholders, i.e. customers, employees, shareholders, etc.

4.      Don’t expect people to trust you just because you think they should. As Stephen R. Covey said, “You can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved yourself into. You have to behave your way out of it.” When your credibility goes down by 50%, it has to come up by 100% just to end up where you started! Recognize you have work to do and go to work.

5.      Connect with those who have been affected by the past failures, individually or in small groups, and seek to understand their perspective.

6.      Listen, listen, and listen! And when you think they are done sharing their perspective, ask an open-ended question and listen more. Those more you listen, the more you uncover potential issues and most importantly, the more you instill confidence that you are not just trying to get people to go along with your ideas, but actually care about addressing their concerns.

7.      Put mechanisms in place to prove that you are willing and able to follow through with the commitments you have made to address the issues and mitigate the risks you have learned about. Create multiple touch points to keep your finger on the pulse of the progress and take action early and often to get things back on track if they begin to slide. Complacency or delay in responding to emergent issues may be interpreted as a sign of apathy, so be as proactive as possible.

8.      Exercise courage in making sure that others in the organization who are involved in implementing the initiative have learned their lessons from past attempts and they recognize what they need to do differently so they don’t make the same mistakes.

9.      Issue a general call to action to the broader organization publicly and make specific requests individually or in small groups for others to get involved in making the initiative a success. Make it easy for people to know what they can do and how they can contribute to the cause.

10.  Set milestones and celebrate them to acknowledge progress and highlight that something is different this time. Be generous in acknowledging the people who are stepping up to the plate and paving the way for others to join in on the movement.

11.  Be efficient and expedient with taking action to find and remove barriers, but be patient in restoring people’s trust in you and the process. I learned long ago that telling my kids they’d better start having fun on a high-priced vacation never worked! Neither does getting frustrated at people because they are not on board. The more you push, the more resistance you create. If someone is being lazy or intentionally sabotaging the progress, deal with it swiftly, but when it comes to the other 95%, double down on the other steps mentioned here to earn their trust and engagement.

These are just a few tips to get you started on reviving transformation efforts in your organization. The fact is that it is a very involved process that can’t simply be done in a paint-by-numbers way. It requires the proper tool set, skill set, and mindset, as well as the experiences and intuition to bring them all together. While I can’t offer that in a blog post, if you’d like to learn a little more about the process of getting started with successfully transforming your culture, and hear a few examples of how I was able to do so, I encourage you to check my free ebook and audio series. Until next time, may you boldly declare, courageously pursue, and abundantly achieve the extraordinary!


 
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You can now listen to the new 5-part audio series, “Transforming Your Workplace Experience!" This audio series serves as both a great standalone introduction to culture transformation, as well as a companion to our previously available free culture transformation guide. In the series, I walk you through some applications and examples of the concepts presented in the guide, so that you can more effectively put them into practice and get motivated by the progress you will start making. I know that after learning and applying the concepts and distinctions that I present in the guide and audio series, you will be more qualified than ever to create extraordinary cultures that consistently deliver breakthrough results!


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About the Author: Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.

Want to learn more about how The Ghannad Group serve and guide you in your leadership development and culture transformation efforts? Click here
Want to get in touch with Amir? Email amir@theghannadgroup.com

As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!

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