The four building blocks of change

Posted on: November 29th, 2016 by bobmorris

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Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Tessa Basford and Bill Schaninger for the McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company. To read the complete article, check out other resources, learn more about the firm, obtain subscription information, and register to receive email alerts, please click here.

To learn more about the McKinsey Quarterly, please click here.

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Four key actions influence employee mind-sets and behavior. Here’s why they matter.

Large-scale organizational change has always been difficult, and there’s no shortage of research showing that a majority of transformations continue to fail. Today’s dynamic environment adds an extra level of urgency and complexity. Companies must increasingly react to sudden shifts in the marketplace, to other external shocks, and to the imperatives of new business models. The stakes are higher than ever.

So what’s to be done? In both research and practice, we find that transformations stand the best chance of success when they focus on four key actions to change mind-sets and behavior: fostering understanding and conviction, reinforcing changes through formal mechanisms, developing talent and skills, and role modeling. Collectively labeled the “influence model,” these ideas were introduced more than a dozen years ago in a McKinsey Quarterly article, “The psychology of change management.” They were based on academic research and practical experience—what we saw worked and what didn’t.

Digital technologies and the changing nature of the workforce have created new opportunities and challenges for the influence model (for more on the relationship between those trends and the model, see this article’s companion, “Winning hearts and minds in the 21st century”). But it still works overall, a decade and a half later (exhibit). In a recent McKinsey Global Survey, we examined successful transformations and found that they were nearly eight times more likely to use all four actions as opposed to just one. Building both on classic and new academic research, the present article supplies a primer on the model and its four building blocks: what they are, how they work, and why they matter.

Fostering understanding and conviction

We know from research that human beings strive for congruence between their beliefs and their actions and experience dissonance when these are misaligned. Believing in the “why” behind a change can therefore inspire people to change their behavior. In practice, however, we find that many transformation leaders falsely assume that the “why” is clear to the broader organization and consequently fail to spend enough time communicating the rationale behind change efforts.

This common pitfall is predictable. Research shows that people frequently overestimate the extent to which others share their own attitudes, beliefs, and opinions—a tendency known as the false-consensus effect. Studies also highlight another contributing phenomenon, the “curse of knowledge”: people find it difficult to imagine that others don’t know something that they themselves do know. To illustrate this tendency, a Stanford study asked participants to tap out the rhythms of well-known songs and predict the likelihood that others would guess what they were. The tappers predicted that the listeners would identify half of the songs correctly; in reality, they did so less than 5 percent of the time.

Therefore, in times of transformation, we recommend that leaders develop a change story that helps all stakeholders understand where the company is headed, why it is changing, and why this change is important. Building in a feedback loop to sense how the story is being received is also useful. These change stories not only help get out the message but also, recent research finds, serve as an effective influencing tool. Stories are particularly effective in selling brands.

Even 15 years ago, at the time of the original article, digital advances were starting to make employees feel involved in transformations, allowing them to participate in shaping the direction of their companies. In 2006, for example, IBM used its intranet to conduct two 72-hour “jam sessions” to engage employees, clients, and other stakeholders in an online debate about business opportunities. No fewer than 150,000 visitors attended from 104 countries and 67 different companies, and there were 46,000 posts. As we explain in “Winning hearts and minds in the 21st century,” social and mobile technologies have since created a wide range of new opportunities to build the commitment of employees to change.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Tessa Basford is a consultant in McKinsey’s Washington, DC, office; Bill Schaninger is a director in the Philadelphia office.

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