Getting Fit for Change

By Warren Parry


Many executives think organizational change is a messy, chaotic process that can derail their business. But that’s because they’ve been managing it using faulty assumptions and outdated approaches. My book, Big Change, Best Path: Successfully Managing Organizational Change with Wisdom, Analytics and Insight (Kogan-Page, 2015), presents quantitative evidence, case studies and practical guidance for leaders and the workforce of the future on how to manage organizational change successfully with an analytics-based, insight-driven approach.

Over the past 15 years, my team and I have collected data from 850,000 respondents in more than 150 organizations—a quarter of which were Fortune Global 500 companies. We studied many types of change journeys, including mergers and acquisitions, restructurings, technology implementations, cost reductions, culture changes, and new business models.

As our change research data grew, patterns emerged. The findings are useful and actionable insights for organizational leaders, including those in HR. 

For example, we found that organizations can detect the early warning signs of a change initiative about to go off track. The use of predictive analytics can support decision-making and highlight paths that will help achieve desired business outcomes during times of transition.

Additionally, we found that:

  • Many organizations have implemented certain initiatives—for example, more communication, increased employee training and improved accountability—before embarking on a change program in order to make employees “change smart.” While these efforts are generally well-intentioned, they are often misguided and have little direct impact on the business outcomes the organization wants to achieve.
  • The most critical drivers of organizational performance are strong business and HR leadership, good systems and processes, clear vision and direction, and high passion and drive.
  • The highest-performing organizations actually thrive on change—with more change taking place and at a faster pace than at lower-performing companies. High-performing companies also have a strong capability to drive ongoing change and, as a result, they achieve greater benefits from their change programs.
  • High-performing businesses are more open and better able to adapt to change due to high trust in leadership.
  • Change initiatives rarely fail because of the change itself; they fail because of pre-existing problems in the organization. When we studied groups with change programs that had gone off track, we found that 8 percent of them already had major underlying issues before the change program started.

I like to think about athletes training as a visual parallel to organizational change. Just as athletes rely on cutting-edge digital technologies and analytics to deliver optimal results from their training, organizations should take advantage of insight-driven approaches using sophisticated analytics to better manage their change programs.

We’ve seen that the companies best prepared for change are those that build change capability into the heart of the organization, leaving people in good shape to achieve and sustain high performance over the long haul.

Whether an organization is undergoing a major transformation, embarking on a specific change journey or building an ongoing change capability, leveraging insight-driven approaches and proven methods will increase the pace, certainty and success of an organization’s change program, thus improving performance and driving business growth. 

Warren Parry, @ParryWarren on Twitter, is a managing director at Accenture Strategy, Talent & Organization. Based in Sydney, Australia, he helps clients navigate complex organizational change.

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