Load the DICE in favor of the communication role in change management
Managing organizational change is tough. Despite all the studies and books on change management, two thirds of all transformation initiatives still fail. Every organization’s situation is different and requires a strategy tailored specifically to its unique requirements. This is difficult.
In recent years the experts have started to realize that the ‘soft’ issues of organizational culture, leadership, motivation and communication are central to change efforts. However, some of the most experienced experts from the high-profile Boston Consulting Group say “soft factors don’t directly influence the outcomes of many change programs”. They say the unfashionable ‘hard’ factors are the things that really count.
(At the same time it must be pointed out that management consultants have never fully understood the importance of communication. They seem oblivious to the fact that communication is at the heart of almost every aspect of change. Understanding the need for change and how to change doesn’t happen through mind reading, intuition or osmosis – it must be communicated, formally and informally!)
From their experience with hundreds of change transformations, the BCG consultants consider that the hard factors have three clear characteristics:
- They can be measured directly or indirectly.
- Their importance can easily be communicated internally and externally.
- Businesses are able to influence these factors quickly.
In a study of 225 companies undergoing change, BCG consultants found four core factors that governed the success or failure of change programs. Their experience in a further 1,000 change management programs worldwide since then has confirmed that the same four factors are still the best predictors of success and the best guide to the actual accomplishment of organizational change.
The key DICE factors
The four DICE factors that BCG have found to determine the outcome of any transformation initiative in small as well as large organizations are:
D. The duration of time until the change program is completed if it has a short life span; if longer, the length of time between reviews of milestones.
I. The project team’s performance integrity; ie its ability to complete the initiative on time. That depends on members’ skills and traits relative to the project’s requirements.
C. The commitment to change displayed by top management and employees affected by the change.
E. The change effort required of employees over and above their usual work.
Communication is central to every one of the four DICE factors, even though the consultants play it down.
Organizations usually think longer programs are more likely to fail because the early momentum of change will slow down over time. However, the key variable is the length of time between project reviews – even long projects can be refreshed if regular reviews are held.
The recommended maximum time between reviews is eight weeks. The preferable review time is when significant milestones are scheduled. The best milestones describe major actions or achievements rather than day-to-day activities. Such milestone reviews should be formal meetings that evaluate the project team’s performance. At these meetings, senior management should look closely at the dynamics within teams, changes in employees’ perceptions of the program, and communication from the top. Additionally, achievement of targets can be communicated widely to all relevant internal and external stakeholders.
Performance integrity is the extent to which organizations can rely on teams of managers, supervisors and other staff to execute change projects successfully. Change programs largely depend on the caliber of the teams involved – management needs to make the best staff available to work on the change process while still contributing to their usual work activities.
Astute senior managers communicate the measures on which they will judge the team’s performance, and they communicate how the evaluation fits into the organization’s regular appraisal process.
For change to be successful, it needs the commitment of the most influential executives (C1) – not necessarily the most senior – and also of the employees who must deal with the new systems, processes or ways of working (C2).
Commitment of the influential executives is largely embodied in their communication about the changes required. The BCG consultants say that no amount of top-level support is too much. Their rule of thumb is: when the senior managers feel they are supporting the change initiative at a level at least three times higher than they need to, that’s when other managers will feel those senior manageers are backing the transformation sufficiently.
Organizations often underestimate the role that senior executives play in transformation efforts. By communicating too late or inconsistently, senior executives can alienate the people who are most affected by the changes. Good communication is absolutely essential. And care is needed for good communication. For instance, in one case study a manager said, “Layoffs will not occur,” while another said, “Layoffs are not expected to occur.” This created confusion, cynicism and lower employee commitment.
When change programs are initiated, senior managers tend to underestimate the fact that employees are already busy. If employees have to deal with change activities on top of their existing day-to-day work, they will resist the changes.
Managers need to check the existing workloads of individual employees and the extra time that making the changes will take. The discretionary and non-essential tasks of employees involved in change can be removed. Management can review all the other projects in the operational plan and delay, re-prioritize or restructure them to reach a more realistic workload for employees. Temporary staff can be brought in to deal with routine matters or some activities can be outsourced. However, since it can be costly and labor-intensive to do this, senior managers need to think of the impact of such decisions. It is crucial in this stage for management to communicate well to all those involved about the role of each person so that everyone knows what is expected of everyone else.
The consultants calculate DICE scores according to the formula:
DICE = Duration + (2 x Integrity) + (2 x C1: Commitment of influential executives) + C2: Commitment of the people affected directly by the changes + Effort.
In other words, the impact of the change team’s performance integrity – the extent to which they can be relied upon to do what they need to do – and the commitment of influential executives are the two most important individual factors in change projects.
Although the consultants may not consider communication to directly influence the outcomes of change programs, the fact is that good communication is central to all of the so-called ‘hard factors’. A carefully considered communication strategy must be integral to all stages of the change process. Insist on it.
Reading: “The hard side of change management” in Harvard Business Review Online, October 2005. This e-book on change communication is useful for tackling the issues raised by change management.