Change – Make It Personal

Implementing successful and sustainable change is tough, strategic change initiatives fail two thirds of the time in North American business (Kotter, 1996, and McKinsey, 2009).  How can your organization succeed?  You can succeed by making change personal!  Remember, performance is personal before it is organizational.  This is another one of those “Better Business Basics” and a matter of common business sense; but most of the time it just doesn’t happen.

Many organizations start with a plan for their change initiative, communicate it to their leadership team, tell the organization to watch for it, set some goals and measures, and incorporate the goals in their team and department objectives.  Then the change dies and the leadership team wonders why.  The answer; the change was never translated into personal action!

If change is not embraced by the people in your organization (including your customers and vendors) it will fail.  Why?  Because performance is personal before it is organizational.  If your people do not understand the change initiative, buy into it, and integrate it into their daily activities, it will not work.

There is a natural human resistance to change because it involves moving out of a comfort zone.  Consequently planned change won’t be translated into personal action because people are skeptical, don’t understand why, don’t see the need, and don’t know what’s in it for them.

So how do you make change personal?  Define, communicate, delegate and track it using the “expectations approach.”  We usually get the organization’s side of change, define and communicate, pretty well.  Where we fail is in putting the personal side of change, communicate, delegate, and track, into play.

First, define the change in terms of broad categories of activity to which everyone in the organization can relate, and specific results that benefit the organization and its people.

Second, communicate the change initiative, and include the message that leadership will be expecting everyone to participate by defining specific expectations of each other necessary to carry out the change.

Third, communicate more, and here is where things start to get personal by focusing on the individual working relationships in the workplace.  Have each person on the leadership team identify specific expectations of each other as to what they must do to successfully implement the change.  Make sure the expectations are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time and budget bounded, and ethical.  Make sure they are recorded.  Have each leader discuss his or her expectations with the partner who will execute the expectation, and make sure each accepts accountability for each other’s expectation.  This helps to create a productive relationship and integrate the change into the business at the leadership level.

Fourth, delegate by carrying the above process to each leader’s direct reports, peers, and business partners throughout the organization or at least those teams that are considered key players in the change initiative.  Ensure the people are delegated not only the responsibility for, but also the accountability for, and the authority to execute each expectation.  In this way each person owns the expectations that others have of him or her.  This step integrates the change throughout the organization as it becomes a part of each person’s work responsibilities and commitments.

Fifth, track the results of each expectation.  This means each person holding accountable the person who agreed to the expectation for completing and reporting completion.  Accountability can be a scary thing to many people who haven’t truly experienced it on the job.  On the other hand, the expectations approach opens this challenge between leaders and their direct reports from a business rather than a personal perspective and serves to foster improved communications between them.

The expectations approach makes change personal by pushing accountability for implementing change throughout the organization in a way that people can understand the reasons for and expected results from the change, and buy into it.  We’ve found it one of the most effective ways of implementing successful and sustainable change in organizations.  The side benefits of this approach are that it improves accountability throughout the organization, and encourages creation and development of productive relationships between people, leading to improved organizational performance.

We have successfully employed this approach in Fortune 500 companies and family owned businesses, from new selling strategies to management transitions.  It works in for-profit and non-profit organizations from large to small, and it also works in government organizations (it’s been used in the British Navy by its developer, John Machin).

If all this sounds complicated, it is, because, as we at The Performance Suite, formerly PDS Group LTD, believe, “change is hard and real change is real hard!”  If you want to be successful at change, you have to be prepared to tackle the hard part of change – making it personal.  But that’s OK, because we at TPS and our North American consulting partners at IMC and The Crispian Advantage can help and, we have an “app” for that!  Check us out at and .

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