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Mastering Change: Essential Elements of Sustainability

Updated: Jun 20, 2022

Even the slightest change can have a major impact on an organization's culture. Many seasoned leaders can attest to having struggled through their first experiences with organizational changes early in their careers. From intentional disruptions (such as initiating a strategic planning process) to ostensibly less intrusive events (such as the addition of an employee break room), most changes permeate culture at every level and, oftentimes, influence external stakeholders' perception of the organization's brand.

Leaders have an explicit responsibility to manage six, critical elements throughout analysis, implementation, and evaluation of the change process. Appropriate attention to these essential components results in long-lasting change, fosters stakeholder ownership, and creates a ripple of process efficiency across the organization.

"Leadership is the capacity to transform vision into reality."

- Warren G. Bennis

VISION - Change begins with leadership visioning, directly followed by clear communication of the end-game with stakeholders. When the vision is unclear, internal and external stakeholders - employees, consumers, strategic partners - become confused, which dooms the change process to fail.

BLUEPRINT - The blueprint, or strategy, extends from the vision and includes measurable tactics. Thomas Edison famously said: "Vision without execution is delusion." When an organization is expected to execute a vision without an action plan from the leadership, the process of change is burdened by a series of starts and stops as different directions are tested.

EXPERTISE - Perceptive leaders know it's not only unfair to delegate responsibility to team members lacking the appropriate experience, knowledge and/or skills, but it's also counterproductive. Team members require the personal tools necessary for success in their roles, which can sometimes include leadership coaching or collaborative team training. Without the expertise to perform, they often feel only anxiety in the face of change.

"If you care, you can drive higher levels of engagement. But you do have to care."

- Kevin Kruse

RESOURCES - Even with a known destination and a clear roadmap, a lack of resources to complete the trip can cause widespread aggravation. An organization's primary resources include money, workforce, time, information and access. A lack of necessary resources stalls the change process and results in the team's frustration.

MOTIVATION - The most common way to motivate employees is thorough financial compensation, e.g., a raise to inspire more work. However, savvy leaders know money isn't the only way. Incentive is in the eye of the beholder. It's personal. Compassion and respect often build loyalty. Inspiration can result from consistent positive feedback or a flexible work schedule. Without motivation, change is slow.

ONGOING EVALUATION - The feedback component is most often dismissed; yet it's arguably the most important. Once the vision and strategy are established, how will the organization know it's been successful? Creating benchmarks throughout the change process enables the organization to stay on course. With just the first, five components in place, the organization experiences only short-term change.


Here are three, proven ways to ensure sustainable change:

  • Everything revolves around the intended outcome. When government officials in Oak Park, Michigan, for example, made the decision to transition to a transparent, resident-accessible model, all planning and events centered on this theme, which included an in-depth strategic planning process, an expanded communication program, and construction of a new, municipal complex. Every aspect – from strategic partnerships and policy development to employee culture and the paint color on the walls – served a critical role in moving the organization closer to realizing its vision.

  • Create a meeting rhythm with a single purpose. Conscious leaders understand the importance of team meetings for planning and updates, as well as relationship-building. Meeting for the sake of meeting, however, frustrates employees. Once leadership identifies the organization's priorities, meetings take on new meaning, as all agendas sync with those priorities. Productive meetings consistently demonstrate to employees at all levels the contribution of their individual and collective roles in manifesting the organization's vision.

  • Require accountability. The strategic planning process is only complete if it identifies champions, measurable benchmarks, and target dates for each objective, down to detailed tactics. Smart leaders identify and assign responsibilities to emerging trailblazers within the organization, which moves change strategy forward, while providing mentoring opportunities for future leaders.

Even the slightest organizational change strategy can be improved with a sustainability model. The six, essential elements described here apply just as much to complex events as to seemingly simple events. Developing and integrating these elements throughout the change management process is the most effective way to create sustainable change in your organization.

JOSCELYN A. DAVIS is a 25-year veteran in leadership and organization development. She is the President and CEO of JADE STRATEGIES, INC., a U.S.-based management consulting firm with proven expertise in developing extraordinary leaders, high-functioning professional teams, and sustainable organizational change.

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