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Facing the Failure of Change

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Facing failure is always difficult and facing the failure of a change you championed is no exception. You may feel your resilience slipping away and you may find yourself being short-tempered with those to whom you assign responsibility for the failure—or with completely innocent parties.

In the meantime, the organization or team itself may stutter as it tries to find its way back to equilibrium. People may have difficulty focusing and staying motivated until they know whether a new broom will sweep in a different direction.

Recovering yourself and your organization from a failed change requires the ability to:

  • Step back to absorb what has happened.
  • Let go of the things you cannot control.
  • Reframe—is there anything, any lesson learned, bridges made, or small part of the change that can be seen as a success?
  • Find renewed energy to control what you can.

The Importance of Analysis

Among the lessons that failure often teaches is that change must be made for a reason. Who wants the change, why do they want it, who benefits from it, and how much risk is involved? If the reason for the change is to keep up with competition or try out a new technology, for example, will those reasons be convincing to the people who have to implement and then carry out the change? Will they make a difference in how favorably customers view the company or how successful the company is in the marketplace? What is the return on investment?

Recovery from a failed change also requires analysis. Where and when did the change go wrong? Was there a point at which the direction could have changed? Were the right leaders in charge and were the right people consulted beforehand? 

Analysis helps answer those questions and prevent the next failure to change.

The Importance of Building Connections

There is a difference between analyzing root causes and dwelling on lost causes. Some aspects of failure defy analysis. For example, the very culture of an organization might resist change, perhaps because of hidden conflicts between divisions or teams that must be resolved before any change has a hope of success.

Relationships are very important—they support a change initiative or fight it, they expedite implementation or undermine it, they urge acceptance by others or promote dissension. The failure of one initiative provides time to build relationships and strengthen communications with customers, stakeholders, team members, and superiors, to ensure the success of the next initiative.

The Importance of Leadership

Change management requires many skills in communication, planning and preparation, problem solving, and time management, among others. Those skills do not all come naturally to any one leader. Even when they do, they vary widely because of different personalities; for example, some leaders are more comfortable with risk than others and some are better or worse at delegation. 

Moreover, while commitment to a change is important, becoming too committed to one course of action or too self-confident in the rightness of one’s actions often prompts a leader to overlook barriers to change, dismiss the concerns of other, or fail to predict the effect of one change on the organization as a whole. 

Change leadership—indeed, leadership skills in general—can be learned and honed. One of the benefits of Stress Management and Resiliency Training (SMaRT) is an increased ability to recuperate from and reframe failure, take advantage of the lessons learned, and build for future success.

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