Why is it so hard to implement change?

Should it be so hard to implement new suppliers or change in general? At our recent conference, 30% of survey respondents mentioned implementation as a challenge. In the first of a series of articles on implementation, we look at setting yourself up for success. And we share some success stories and learnings from our members.

Change is immutable. Without it, organisations stagnate or perish. People are the same. Without change, there is no progression, learning or growth. Change to us has always been an opportunity. To learn something new, explore new ways of doing things and ideally do things better.

For some people and companies, change is well implemented. It drives efficiencies and delivers ongoing success. Other organisations do not do it so well. They chop and change strategies. Rarely following up on the success of one initiative before moving onto the next.

Poor change culture does not always equate to failure. Especially in organisations that have strong books. Yet, poor change management is well known to lead to below optimal performance. It could also underline other issues.

Why does change fail?

Before understanding the cause of change failure – you need to ask yourself a simple question. What are the measurements for success? If your measurement for success is 100% compliance at day one or even at any time – you may be setting the bar a little high. Compliance is a separate issue for many organisations. Which could result from cultural misalignment, conflicting KPIs or poor communication?

There can be many reasons change fails. There are however a few common reasons why change fails across many organisations.

Who is driving the change?

Never underestimate the impact of who is driving change. An effective change leader is not always the person in charge. Achieving change is not an email. Nor is it a policy document. It is not a process diagram. Change is a process but it is one that involves people.

People all too often are forgotten in projects or initiatives. Ann afterthought. An “oh, yeah, we better communicate this to everybody…”. But people need to be front and centre of any part of a change process. From the first time, an RFP is considered through to ongoing monitoring of the success of the project.

And the people leading a project are critical to ensuring success. It is after all their responsibility. For many teams, while they may have a manager or leader of their own – they should consider whether they need help. Even from another function or leader. Or whether they need to go up the line to the senior leaders. It is critical to ensure that whoever leads change is visible and accessible. Throughout the project and ongoing.

It is also important for organisations with many sites to have a local champion. For remote offices, it may be that the company leadership is ‘out of sight, out of mind’ for many staff. Someone present can share initiatives, train local teams and listen and watch feedback.

You should also consider staff, not in leadership roles but influence within their co-worker circles. This can be a very effective strategy for driving large amounts of change. As well as providing a sense of ownership at all levels.

Is there buy-in for the change

If you do not have buy-in from all your audiences – change will fail. It is that simple. It’s easier said than done so how do you get buy-in? This, of course, depends on the culture of your company. Last month our CEO, Oliver Lazarevic wrote about this topic as this has proven to be one of the key ingredients in delivering savings. It is also one of the most important factors in change well-implemented change.

Getting everyone on board should be simple. If it is a minor change, then do it. Clear communication and clear expectations work. If someone is pushing back for whatever reason – listen first and respond. If you need to, address the behaviour with the individual. Don’t let ‘naysayers’ derail the entire project or water down what you are trying to do.

Understand upfront where conflicting or misaligned KPIs or policies may reduce impact. And, ensure that you are communicating using the right tone. Make sure you also provide enough air space for communication so everyone sees it and understands.

A strong leader can deliver immediate results but has the staff bought in?

Let’s look at the example of a large company we worked with last year. The individual was a strong individual who drove the project. We analysed their spend across many categories and offered a predicted benefit of 13%. That was on over a million dollars of spend (based on our standing offer with a supplier).

Over a few months, the results were trending over a 20% tracked benefit after analysis.

6 months into the initiative, this strong project leader left the organisation. The results immediately dipped back below 10% and continue to fall back. This is a clear example of strong leadership yet poor buy-in. Nothing should have changed. Yet as soon as the leader left, old bad habits (and attitudes) crept back into the buying habits of the organisation. It is important to note that this organisation is operating in a tough industry with declining revenues and margins.

Is it well communicated?

Clear communication does not stop at an email, presentation or announcement. Nor should it be a one-way process. Communication is critical and must address all audience within an organisation.

Let’s look at an example – If you are communicating a change in supplier.

Should you include:

A/ The people who are responsible for ordering?

B/ The people responsible for paying bills?

C/ The leaders within the business?

D/ All the above?

The answer is of course D but communication is one of the areas where a lot of companies fail.

Communication could be an entire series of articles for discussion and we will share what we know works at another time. For today we will summarise it down to what is critical, the 6 steps for success

A simple guide to communicating change:

1/ Clear communication – avoid corporate wishy-washy language

2/ Explain why

3/ Detail what you expect from everyone – it is critical to be clear on this.

4/ Provide a contact point for questions

5/ Show how you will measure success

6/ Give it the airspace it deserves – do not mix it in with feel good communication or try to soften it behind other comms.

Following this approach will ensure that you give your implementation or project the best chance for success. Then it comes down to the people in your organisation.

Do you have the right people for a change?

Last month Oliver talked about culture. In any project, there is always one or more detractors causing problems. You should always expect it to happen. And, be surprised if it does not happen. There will always be someone who has a personal relationship with the customer support person. Or the driver, or salesperson or someone who will think it is not fair.

Life is like that and should not deter you from making the changes you need to make with suppliers. If you follow the process above people will choose to fall into line or not. But at least you have set clear expectations. If it becomes a problem ongoing, well, we will leave that part up to you.

Do it

Our advice is to do it. Pussyfooting around simple changes will only make bigger or more important initiatives harder. Make change a process rather than a policy. Set clear expectations. Get buy-in. Communicate well and it should all go well. If it doesn’t then learn what worked and what didn’t. And use those learnings for future implementations.

And above all, enjoy it. A company that is changing is in far better shape to weather adversity and a much more exciting place to work.

Helping implement categories is part of what we do every day for our members. In the next article, we will get into the detail on how to set up a good implementation.