“Change Management is like rebuilding an airplane mid-air”

Human Resources

Change management is hot. As long as there have been organizations, managers have had to deal with change trajectories. Even though there is a lot of scientific research and management literature is popular, these processes remain very challenging. The fact that more than 75% of the change initiatives fail proves this. We asked Daan Sorgeloos, lecturer of the Masterclass Change Management, what the 5 most important change problems are according to him.


1. Resistance against change

“That is a real classic. Especially because resistance is an intrinsic part of change. It therefore belongs to this process. However, resistance cannot be removed at the start of change, it can only be channeled. You do this by listening actively and with understanding to the other and by giving space to their emotions. What definitely does not work is trying to thoroughly explain it all again. This makes the resistance increase even more. Fact is, that when resisting something, people do not want to understand, they want to feel understood. Only when people are gradually able to experiment with the new behavior later on in the trajectory, the resistance will decrease again. Change agents can then set up effective resistance canalization steps or stages."

2. Generating commitment

“Who must you involve when in the change trajectory to generate the most optimally possible commitment? A difficult question, to which the different studies all give different answers. It depends largely on the complexity of the change trajectory. That is why you as a change agent must clearly draw the lines together with the board to meet the results they want to achieve. In this lies the difference between strategic and practical participation. From a strategical point of view, not the entire company has to join in on the thinking process, but on the practical level, everyone should help thinking about what the best way would be to get there.”

3. Dealing with change exhaustion

“Nowadays, there are a lot of change projects at companies. It is difficult to create the commitment for this, when the reason for these changes does not stem from a larger vision. The appointed change agent must make the top of the organization to display this change in their work and to know well why this change is necessary. This way, the management team is committed as well and all the heads will be turned to the same direction. As a change agent, you must insist that you get a few hours with the top of the company, but this is easier said than done in most cases. Solutions have to be brought in an inspiring and recognizable way. It is important that the management first paints an inspiring image before talking about solutions."

4. Generating the necessary power

“Many change managers struggle with the question how they should attain the necessary power to carry through the necessary changes. The top of the enterprise often does not realize enough that it must give a very concrete assignment to the change manager. The reason to hire this change manager is because the board itself acts from an operational mode and can therefore not operate from a mode of change. Change management is like rebuilding an airplane mid-air. The pilot is not going to hand over the control just like that. The managers can hand over control too quickly, but also too slowly. As soon as these changes start having an impact, the boards often crawl back as well. That is exactly the reason why you must never accept the change assignment when the top does not present the task concretely enough. Only once they do and you manage to align the interests of the board, the stakeholders and the employees, you can generate the power to achieve success.”

5. Getting things to move

“To get things moving, you can either work from people’s desires or from their fear. To do so, you must learn the necessary political skills to create meaning as a change agent. If you manage clarifying why the coming changes are necessary, you get moving more quickly. Together with the board, you have to think of an answer to 4 question.

  1. What are the trends?
  2. What are the facts?
  3. What are the risks when we do nothing?
  4. Why now?

You must be able to name the trends to show that the proposal for change knows a broader cause. You also have to be able to give facts that illustrate that change is necessary. Furthermore, you have to paint an image of what will happen when the organization continues the same way. In combination with the explanation of why now is the time to deal with it, you create a burning platform. Without a burning platform, you will overthink any minor obstacle.”

Do you recognize these kinds of challenges?

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