How to Develop Resilience in the Face of Constant Change

Lessons from IBM’s Global Business Services team on how to ensure the success of your change projects.

If you want the most up-to-date research on how to manage change successfully, you need to take a look at IBM’s Closing the Change Gap report (2009), which is based on the results of surveys and interviews with more than 1500 change practitioners from 15 nations across the globe between 2006 and 2008.

Not surprisingly, project success isn’t evenly spread across these companies: the pareto rule applies, where 20% of the change practitioners (the so-called Change Masters) are responsible for 80% of the successful projects. In contrast, the bottom 20% (the Change Novices) report a success rate of merely 8%.

So what is the key to the Change Masters’ success? IBM’s summarises the key facets in a Change Diamond as follows:

  • Real insights, real actions
  • Solid methods, solid benefits
  • Better skills, better change

  • Right investment, right impact

Now you’ll be forgiven for thinking that this is all a little obvious. It’s perhaps where the IBM model falls down. In their haste to create something which looks well-balanced and compact, persuasive and acceptable to business, I think that the IBM team has glossed over the real gems of the research, which means that you have to dig a little deeper into the report to find them.

What are the real gems?

Although it’s been recognised for years in management theory that project success is due to people and not to technology, it seems that the vast majority of the organisations which took part in IBM’s research have been a bit slow on the uptake. Either that or they’re companies which believed that technology really is superior. So the main strength of the Closing the Change Gap report is the acknowledgement that “…the ‘soft stuff’ is the hardest to get right”. In fact the top 6 of the top 10 factors which make the difference to the success of a change project are soft:

  1. Senior management sponsorship 92%
  2. Employee involvement 72%
  3. Honest & timely communication 70%
  4. Culture which motivates and promotes change 65%
  5. Pioneers of change 55%
  6. Change supported by culture 48%
  7. Efficient training programmes 38%
  8. Adjustment of performance measures 36%
  9. Efficient organisation structure 33%
  10. Monetary & non-monetary incentives 19%.

The role of Positive Psychology

And where does positive psychology come into all this? For me the big ticket items are the two Rs: resistance and resilience. IBM mentions the first but oddly enough, not the second. So even though ‘for its very survival, the Enterprise of the Future must better prepare itself as the pace, variety and pervasiveness of change continue to increase’, nothing is really said about how organisations should be preparing their staff from a psychological perspective to cope with this. It’s assumed that understanding and implementing a robust change management process which covers all four facets of the Change Diamond will suffice. Hmmmm, I’m not so sure!

Fortunately there is a great deal organisations can do to increase the resilience of their staff, including developing optimism, taking control of emotions, understanding the impact of beliefs on behaviour, and how to manage unhelpful thinking patterns, as well as actively managing stress levels. All of these things can help employees get back in the driving seat with renewed energy, engagement, sense of purpose and focus. Which is exactly what organisations need to meet the challenge of continual, complex change head on. And be successful.


Thanks to Paul Barrett for the link

2 Responses

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