Business is rife with catch phrases, and has been for quite some time. Some are horrid clichés… “run it up the flagpole” or “drink the Kool-Aid.” In fact, in an article for Business Insider, Jacquelyn Smith found 26 catch phrases that are as annoying as the muddied use of the word “literally,” which is presently considered one of the most annoying and misused words in English.
In both business and private universes, there are catch phrases that capture significant attention, and might well lead to new, revolutionary ways of thinking. One such phrase is a change initiative. In its broadest sense it’s a series of actions taken to implement a transformation process. This should properly begin with planning, then proceed with communications as the operational implementation step. A change initiative is part of a change management plan, and is about solving problems, evaluating situations and making decisions that will benefit companies and individuals.
On March 7, 2018, a company called Catalyst, which has been developing, supporting and accelerating the rise of women into the stratospheric echelons of upper management, celebrated International Women’s Day with dozens of buildings around the earth glowing red, forming the symbol for women (♀). Called The Catalyst Skyline Takeover, the lights symbolized a worldwide movement for women to break through the glass ceiling that has bedeviled women and minorities in management positions for decades. The person accredited with creating the term is Marilyn Loden, whose company is at the forefront of change initiatives and change management in the workplace designed to expand diversity and smash the ceiling she aptly described thirty-plus years ago. On International Women’s Day, March 8, 2017, the organization announced a monumental initiative called Catalyst CEO Champions for Change. The CEOs form an impressive who’s who of companies, including 3M, Campbell’s Soup Company, Dell, DuPont, IBM, KPMG, Unilever, and UPS. What’s the rationale behind drawing in CEOs?
Change starts at the top.
What to Look For
The Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest HR professional society. They provide many resources and analyses to aid human resources people in their quests to make their companies the ones that everyone wants to work for. In an article by Mary Kaylor entitled #Nextchat: Preparing Women for the Future of Leadership, she pulls together several studies and sources to examine what characteristics unite companies actively involved with change initiatives that benefit women, identifying them as:
- Creating opportunities to network informally that are inclusive of interests and schedules.
- Giving female exposure and profiles to senior leaders and decision-makers.
- Providing coaching and feedback that builds business acumen.
- Having career and coaching conversations that challenge negative self-perceptions.
- Challenging oneself and others around to uncover and ameliorate unconscious biases.
What to Avoid
Just as there are actions and activities connected to moving forward in a positive way, there is a significant stumbling block to any change management strategy… the corporate culture.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review, entitled Gender Initiatives Are Culture Change Initiatives. What does that mean? One of the top priorities of every company is to develop a safe, productive corporate culture. Cultures have rules – that’s true in the social world, the ordinary world and the business world. While rules seem often made of pliable materials, bending appears to be mostly humored, but breaking rules is not. While it’s true that innovations can develop through rebellion, the number of people or companies wishing to rebel appears to be quite small.
Ms. Wittenberg-Cox drives one point home, “…established systems, processes, and mindsets are notoriously hard to shift.” And in the case of corporate culture, the established system reserves the management top echelons for men, the systems have been established by and for men, and the mindsets are…male. What can human resources do to start shifting gears towards women in the workplace?
Read, Learn, Listen, Lead
David A. Shore, professor at Tianjin University of Finance and Economics, and a leading authority in the field of change management, cites five components to successful change initiatives in his article for Harvard Business Management.
- Allocate resources effectively. Change happens because people make it happen. Everyone involved with the change initiative needs to continue his/her regular work while making change happen. Remember that.
- Make appropriate adjustments for scope creep. Every project begins with a clearly defined scope, which will shift and change as time goes by. As the scope changes, the resources will need to change as well.
- Engage stakeholders. Stakeholders are all the people who affect or are affected by the change initiative. Align stakeholders around the overall vision and actively engage them throughout the process.
- Keep your eye on the real goal. Leaders can be too quick to declare success. They need to use success metrics that are meaningful to the company. They must admit when success hasn’t been achieved. But if the only important goal is achieved – delivering the promised benefits – then declaring success is real.
- Prepare people to sustain the innovation. Many change initiatives are like New Year’s resolutions—people start out with the best of intentions, but the change. Doesn’t. Stick. Leaders need to recognize that resisting change is human nature. They then need to make sure everyone is ready, willing and able.