Sustainable Implementation of Change

Unfortunately, the prevailing thought in many (probably most) organisations, is that regarding the ‘what’ of change – the strategy, policy, technology or whatever. IGO take an approach whereby they believe that of at least equal importance is the process of achieving sustainable implementation through understanding the emotional aspect of organisational change and planning accordingly. Indeed, we would go further and state that from IGO experience in achieving successful and sustainable transformations in several organisations the key to this success has been a concentration on the emotional aspects and the planning that has gone into this aspect.

All threats to destroy the shared reality on which social and individual order is felt to depend will evoke anxiety and hence resistance. There is, therefore, a need to develop a parallel process plan that will lead to containment of anxiety before the implementation of policy, or other organisational change. It’s about assessing the ability of others to assimilate, to be able to perceive - or not – the information communicated to them. It’s about trying to identify what the anxiety is and what needs to be done to contain that anxiety. The bigger the task, the more the effort required on this soft side planning.

You cannot make people change their long-established ways of perceiving, thinking, and framing problems. You cannot alter people’s deep-seated habits by directive. Only they can do it themselves when they really want to, when they themselves experience a strong need to do so. Humans are self-organising beings, and the driving forces for reorganising their internal worlds have to come from within as well as from without.

What you can do however, is provide conditions that will increase the chances that people will make changes themselves. These are conditions that enable people to see things in a new light, to extend their perspectives, to look at the consequences of their actions, to question the validity and relevance of their existing ideas, beliefs, and attitudes that underlie their actions, and to entertain different ones that are more relevant to their new perspective.

The approach required is to shift the emphasis in managerial thinking about fundamental change. The shift required is away from a primary, if not exclusive, concern with the strategic, technological and organizational issues; (the hard stuff); towards a much greater concern with the ability of an organisation to change itself into a new kind of social ‘organism’ or system that is capable of continuous adaptation, to its continuously changing environment (the soft stuff).

IGO refer to the word ‘change’ only in the general context that the outcome we are seeking will result in a change of behaviour of staff. Rather, in regard to the process of getting to this position we think it is important that we think in terms of ‘transformations’: A process that requires that we take staff through a transformational process, one of gradual movement from an existing state of being to a different state of being that reflects the desired outcomes. This requires a process that ensures that staff feel contained, not fearful or threatened; and thus enabling them to fully comprehend and gain individual and group ownership of the programme.

There would be no point in developing a programme if there is not to be sustainable implementation. That is, full implementation and adoption of the whole programme which endures over time. If not sustainable the cost and losses are likely to be considerable. Among these costs are those concerning development of the programme; opportunity costs around involvement of staff in the implementation process at all levels; the loss around intended benefits not being achieved; loss of planned effectiveness of staff; concomitant costs on the organisational bottom line; reputation of the Board and the discrediting of senior managers.

While there may be no alternative in regard to the task, because the situation demands that, ‘no change is not an option’, there are alternatives in the sort of approach that can be taken in regard to implementation. The real question is how can management make the change ‘assimilable’ to staff? Essentially this requires that management; develop the parallel process of planning both (i) the strategy, policy or other change; and (ii) the action they can take to ensure that the emotional response of staff is such that it is assimilable and provides containment.


Organisations and individuals wishing to discuss the IGO approach to Sustainable Major Change, or obtain advice regarding this without commitment, are invited to contact IGO.

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