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For a successful IT transformation, manage the 3 stages of organizational change



By Joshua Brusse, Chief Architect, Asia Pacific and Japan, HP Software Professional Services


In two of my previous articles I wrote about the importance of managing change for individuals as well as teams. You’re going to be more successful in your transformation if you are familiar with the ways that stakeholders react to change. Proactive leadership to manage these change curves will help people and teams return to productivity sooner and will ultimately make the difference in the ROI you hope to achieve. But in my experience, many leaders forget that the organization also goes through a change curve too. The success of your transformation depends on managing all three change curves and understanding how they interrelate.


What does the organizational change curve look like? To explain the process I’ve come up with a three-stage model, drawing on the work of William Bridges and Kurt Lewin along with my own experience of how organizations change.

org change curve.png


Stage 1: Ending

Before you can start something new you have to let go of the old. It’s important to know that the organization is going to change and that this means that practices, policies, culture, values and norms have to go. People need to know what is ending and – more important – when it is ending. I always tell people that there is a list of “non-negotiables” which are going to end, such as a tool or a process that will no longer exist. I want to make sure stakeholders will not hold on to the past; they can then start concentrating on the future. Stakeholders need to know what they can and cannot change so they spend their energy on the right things going forward.


As a leader you may be impatient to get through this phase. But it is essential to spend time letting go. If you don’t position Ending as important, people will want to go back to the old. Then individuals going through their change curve will stay in Resistance. When that happens, everything you do in the transformation itself is a waste of time.


For instance, if you haven’t let go of the old you might start training on a new tool. If you ask the people in training why they are there, they’ll say “because my boss sent me.” For those people—and for the organization—it’s a waste of time for them to be there. The likelihood that they are learning something is very low. And 9 out of 10 times what they pick up is ammunition to go back to their boss and say, “I’m right, this tool sucks, what we had in the past was much better.” That’s the behavior you’ll get if people are not coached properly through ending.


Stage 2: Transform

Many things get settled in the Transform phase, for this is where the real work of the change occurs:


  • Planning for the transformation
  • Moving through the transformation
  • Moving individual stakeholders from Denial/Resistance through Exploration
  • Moving teams from Orientation towards Aspiration
  • Forming the new values and norms of the organization
  • Learning and institutionalizing new competencies
  • Searching for a balanced power and influence scheme, both official and unofficial

The Transform Phase is an uncomfortable phase—the old way is gone, but you have not yet crystallized the new—thus organizations are motivated to get out of it. However moving too quickly increases the risk that organizations try to rush ahead into some (often any) new situation, while others try to back-pedal and retreat into the past. Successful transition, however, requires that an organization and its people spend some time in the Transform stage. This time is not wasted; this is where the creativity and energy of transition are found and the real transformation takes place.


Stage 3: Beginning

Beginning is reached when people feel they can make the emotional commitment to do something in a new way. It’s where teams start to integrate and where individuals and teams start to focus on what they have to do. Practises, policies, culture, values and norms are slowly integrating in existing ones; they are getting consolidated and formalized.


I advise the leaders I work with to launch the new beginning with a lot of rituals, by articulating the new attitudes and behaviors needed to make the change work. Then it’s important to model, provide practice in, and reward those behaviors and attitudes. For example, rather than announcing the grandiose goal of building a "world-class workforce," leaders of transition must define the skills and attitudes that such a workforce must have, and provide the necessary training and resources to develop them.


Understanding how the individuals, teams and the organization change together

The organizational change curve depends on the previous two stakeholder levels progressing through their change curves. For instance, if the majority of your individuals are in Resistance, then it is very difficult to get the team from Orientation to Exploration. If the majority of your teams are not moving from Orientation to Exploration, then your organizational change curve stalls before you can start the Transform stage.


This, in my experience, is where a lot of things can go wrong. The biggest mistake is to start your transformation prematurely before people and teams are ready to start. But when you pay attention to how the change curves work together, you can time your stages for maximum productivity. It’s only when individual stakeholders are committed that teams can fully integrate. That’s when organizations can start the Beginning stage and reap the benefits of the change.


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