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What To Do When Change Fails

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The change failed. Congratulations! Yup, that’s great news. You now know one more way of how not to move forward which is just as important (if not more) as knowing how to move forward. 

Let’s be honest…facing failure can be 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 members, groups, or organizations may stutter as it tries to find its way back to equilibrium. People may have difficulty focusing and staying motivated until they know whether the situation has stabilized or not; keeping their guard up and walking on eggshells until it has.

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

  • Step back to absorb what has happened.
  • Let go of the things you cannot control.
  • Reframe—lessons learned, bridges made, parts of the change that can be seen as a success, seeing different perspectives, and telling yourself something else that changes your view
  • Find renewed energy to control what you can.

To accomplish the above it will be vital to have a driving purpose, use analytics, build connections, leverage leadership, and be intentional. 

The Importance of Purpose

Among the lessons that failure often teaches is that change must be made for a reason. From who wants the change and why do they want it, to who benefits from it and where can opportunities be identified, people cling to greater purposes for change to make sense of the uncomfortable pressures they’re putting themselves through. For example, if the reason for the change is to keep up with the competition or try out new technology, those reasons must be convincing to the people who have to implement and then carry out the change. 

There are five elements of a person’s self that, when met, create purpose. This is true for any individual or group. They are:

  • Gifts are those natural instincts, talents, and strengths where people stand in awe of you. 
  • Desires are those inner forces that put us in constant action to want and achieve more. 
  • Values are the stepping stones by how we achieve our purpose.
  • Passions are those deep emotions that inspire, excite, and energize us to dream bold.
  • Needs are the essential building blocks that must be met for our purpose to matter.

Having, sharing, and meeting the purpose of those involved in the change process will help both individuals and groups bounce back with fervor.

The Importance of Analysis

Recovery from a failed change also requires everyone involved to step back and perform analysis. Analysis helps answer those questions that provide insight into the change process. The goal of analysis is to prevent the next failure to change so the questions asked are difficult, require self-awareness from each member, and require a high level of responsibility from everyone involved.

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. Spouses can be on opposing sides to change financial advisors for personal preference conservative or aggressive growth.

Building connections and bolstering 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 to ensure the success of the next initiative. 

The Importance of Leadership

One of the many benefits of SMaRT is an increased ability to reframe and recuperate from failure, take advantage of the lessons learned, and build for future success. This is done through leadership.

When there is a failure of change, leadership is what gets people through. It can be a leadership committee, a singular person, or upper management but someone takes the reins and demonstrates the myriad of competencies needed to navigate a failure.

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 others, or fail to predict the effect of one change on the organization as a whole. 

The Importance of Intention

Finally, to recover from a failed change there must be intention. This is the mental state by which commitments are made to take action and embrace forward movement. Intention is the force that keeps the shiny pennies and squirrels (aka- distractions) from derailing our Priority Matrix. Emails, social media, checking in with family and friends, non-productive meetings, and so many more tasks pop up on the to-do list and rise to the top as BS excuses for why you don’t get more accomplished in a day.  Because intention contains your level of commitment, it is the ultimate differentiator in what you will do when change fails. 

Key Takeaways

Change is a journey in which steps taken will work and others won’t. To move past those times when steps are missteps and the path seems lost, recovery requires:
- Step back to absorb what has happened.
- Let go of the things you cannot control.
- Reframe — lessons learned, bridges made, parts of the change that can be seen as a success, seeing different perspectives, and telling yourself something else that changes your view
- Find renewed energy to control what you can.

The importance of purpose, analysis, building connections, leadership, and intention are the stepping stones to navigate when change fails.

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