Citing the work of British academic David Feeney, SiriusDecisions research director Steve Silver says organizational change is more a dolphin than a whale.
Wait. Dolphins and whales--huh? It sounds odd, but put into context you quickly get the idea.
"Dolphins surface frequently to take short breaths, communicate and ensure contact with the rest of the pod," Silver writes. "The level of effort required for each breath is small. Whales, on the other hand, tend to take long breaths, dive deep and stay submerged for long periods of time. The level of effort to surface for another breath is significant."
So how does a company ensure breaths are kept short? Silver offers three keys:
1. Talk. A lot. Communication, as it is to so many parts of business and life, is extremely important when it comes to making change stick. Leaders should make it clear why, how, and when a change is being instituted, not just to employees but to anybody else who might be affected by it as well. And then they should keep talking as the new process takes hold. "It keeps them informed of progress, reinforces the project benefits, answers the 'what’s in it for me?' question, and sets expectations," Silver writes.
2. Follow the leader. If you're going to make everybody else do something new, you better be prepared to do it as well. That doesn't just mean jumping on the computer and showing you're capable of using new software. It means implementing it into the company's day-to-day and being forced to reckon with it at the same level as your team. "If the organization is implementing a new sales force automation (SFA) platform, leadership must use the SFA for forecasting, pipeline management, opportunity management and account planning," Silver writes.
3. Set a date. Make it clear to everybody that they really need to have a grasp on the new system by a certain date--not by setting an arbitrary deadline but by planning a meeting or event that will require everybody to be in the fold. By telling employees that next month's meeting will require a deep dive into the new software or everybody's feedback on the new strategy at hand, they won't have much of a choice but to know the new procedures pretty well by that time.