John Kotter wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review reporting that 70% of change efforts fall short of the objectives they were designed to achieve.
What explains this sorry state of affairs? Lots of factors make or break change efforts:
- Support from senior leaders
- Commitment and engagement of key stakeholders
- Allocation of needed resources
- And many, many more
The problem with focusing on these factors as most important? They influence success or failure only once the effort is already underway. Getting these success factors in place isn’t worth much if your very first step gets you pointed in the wrong direction.
The first step in any change effort is getting clear about what you’re trying to achieve. Miss the mark here and you’ll end up on the wrong end of Kotter’s research.
Ask and answer these five questions well and join the 30% Success Club:
1. Who has a say in deciding on your measures of success?
Often this important work is left to a small group of well-intentioned leaders and consultants. Necessary and important players, but alone they’re not enough. Invite a broad base of stakeholders to help you define success and you’ll get:
- More considered and complete definitions of success
- Deeper understanding of what you’re trying to achieve by more people in your organization
- A powerful and efficient upstream communication channel. Defining your goals becomes a way to communicate them
2. What are you measuring?
You need to get a full picture of success. My mentor Kathie Dannemiller shared with me years ago a simple set of guidelines for defining results. She got them from George Ordiorne’s Management By Objectives work in the 1960’s.
There are four kinds of results you can measure:
- Behaviors you can see
- Feedback you can hear
- Experiences you can feel
- Numbers you can count
Make sure you cover the bases in these four areas and you’ll get:
- A comprehensive list of qualitative and quantitative measures
- A clear list everyone in the organization can understand and aim to achieve every day
3. Why are you measuring?
There are different reasons for measuring results. Include all of these and you’ll gain the benefits of:
- Knowing where you’ve succeeded and where you’ve fallen short
- Tracking progress and making course corrections as needed
- Learning what’s worked, and what hasn’t. Then everyone in your organization can apply these lessons in their daily work
- Have measurement become part of your organization’s ongoing conversation. As long as the conversation about defining success is alive and well in your organization, you’re much more likely to achieve it
4. When do you measure?
Early, often, and over time. A key concept in my RTSC work is what I call “short learning loops.” Think rapid prototyping. I’ve learned from my friend and colleague Barry Johnson that it’s important to think of check-in’s in two ways:
- Calendared — These are pre-set times agreed to up front. They provide predictability, continuity, and benchmark data against your plan
- Needs-Driven — These check-in’s don’t lock you into any pre-determined schedule. Take a temperature read when you think it’s needed. Why wait for a “calendared” assessment when you can build on what’s working right now? Why continue missing the mark any longer than you have to just because you agreed to review status reports at the end of the month?
5. How can you measure?
Invite your entire organization to become members of a System-Wide Assessment Team. When measurement is the job of a small group, everyone else ends up feeling judged. When you’re judged, you (and I) tend to get defensive, hide mistakes, and blame others. Radically expand your assessment team and you’ll get:
- Ownership of whatever results are achieved. “We own what we help create.” Whether the work is good, bad, or ugly, when everyone’s doing the measuring, everyone can take credit for successes and responsibility for fixing mistakes
- More accurate information. When people aren’t worried about covering their backside, you get a much clearer view of what’s happening on the ground
- Real time data. With no big bureaucracy “crunching numbers”, people have ready access to important information. Ready access translates into faster response times.