Change management

Change Management Part 5: Sustaining the Change

(Note: these questions, while in no particular order, would likely help an organization’s efficiency if answered in the order they are presented.) Please see the previous parts before moving forward.

This will be part 5 of 6 in the entire Change Management Checklist series. Ultimately, the rest of the series will go as follows.

Change Management Checklist Blog Series:
Part 1: Foundation
Part 2: Learning
Part 3: Planning
Part 4: Implementation
Part 5: Sustaining the Change
Part 6: Review and Re-Adjust

Step 5: Sustaining is about monitoring and judging whether or not the changes that have been implemented can be sustained long-term as part of the culture of the organization.

While it is simple to advocate for the sustainability of change, the truth is that as new people and systems settle in practice, there may be an imbalance in workload or an inability of the organization to maintain the required productivity to sustain the change.

As the leader for change, it is your job to ask these questions, consider metrics, and review the changes that have been made to determine if the organization can maintain the desired productivity to reach goals and produce the desired effects.

In the following questions, we will be discussing work-life, target metrics, employee productivity, the need for continued communication channels, team autonomy, company culture, and much more.

Question 1: Have we reached our targets yet?

Without targets to aim for, you have no reason to solidify an ambiguous change model.
Without targets to aim for, you have no reason to solidify an ambiguous change model.

Put simply, would you want to work on sustainability if you have not yet reached your desired targets?

Consider Step 5: Sustaining the Change as the lock that keeps all systems, actions, processes, and duties exactly the same as they are right now.

If you have not yet reached your intended targets, you likely don’t want things to remain the same. This question is the business version of a popular self-development question that I often ask when I am coaching, which is, “Would you be happy in life if you lived every day the way you do right now?”

Essentially, before you can consider the long-term longevity of business after the change, you must ensure that you have reached your intended targets. More importantly, how does your business after change match the vision you set beforehand?

Your answer to the question regarding vision is extremely important. If the current state of the company does not match the intended vision, now is the time to alter it.

Do this while change is fresh and people are more malleable. Once they become comfortable, you may find yourself once again struggling to gather commitment the way they have it right now.

Remember, your target metrics are merely the communicators between the performance of the companies operational tasks and the strategic vision. Put simply, operational (day-to-day) tasks conglomerate to form metrics that are used to quantify where the company is in terms of where the company should be (strategic vision).

Don’t attempt to let the company settle and form a culture without first being where you want to be!

Question 2: How can we make this change a natural part of work-life?

Making the change not only manageable but natural is a very difficult thing to do in any organization, let alone a change-resistant one. In order for a change to be sustainable, there have to be ever-increasing levels of commitment among your teams.

Brainstorming ideas that can help your organization make change a natural part of work-life is one of the best things you can do to ensure a culture of adaptability and change-readiness.

Here are some quick things you should consider implementing among your organization to encourage change-readiness at any time in the future.

1. Change your thought process.
It has been said that the most expensive words in business are “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” What this presents is a culture that is reliant on any practices and not exactly best practices. Changing your thought process is about looking for solutions beyond the immediate scope of view. In other words, be more creative (or encourage creativity).
2. Embrace consistent learning.
Whether you are an organization that holds book clubs, conferences dedicated to business matters, or supply coaching to managers or leaders, you must embrace constant learning. A culture of constant learning implies curiosity, which is exactly the cure for stagnant or outdated business practices.
3. Take risks.
Does it scare you? Good. Being frightened/uncomfortable is often a sign that growth or learning is occurring within an individual or group. Encouraging your employees to take risks is a simple and effective way to enforce creativity, and in the case that things go wrong, learning as well.
4. Practice being more open-minded.
Occasionally, despite how good the offer is, how beneficial the change, or how useful new technology turns out to be, some people neglect all the benefits and revert to old ways. Without first practicing a little willingness for consideration, nobodies mind could ever be changed, and nothing ever improved.

Question 3: Is operational performance sustainable?

Operations are your foot-soldiers. They are the collaboratively indispensable backbone of the company that keeps it afloat.

Often during times of change, it is easy to quickly delegate extra workload or activities to those who work at the operational level. After all, doing so allows the executive leader/sponsor to clear their mind of remedial duties and focus on the bigger picture.

However, what is important to keep in mind is that this may cause some issues regarding the severity of the workload of the operational level itself, both personally and systematically.

For example, those taking on extra work may find it unfair if they are not duly compensated. This could be harmful to commitment, trust, and cause resistance.

Another example of resistance comes from the operational level that performs long enough to tip over the initial peak of the change-productivity cycle.

The change productivity curve, initially fueled by expectations and excitement, minimizes and increases over time with the evidence of results.
The change productivity curve, initially fueled by expectations and excitement, minimizes and increases over time with the evidence of results.

Ultimately, once a change is initially introduced, excitement and scrutiny are high, causing people to become hyper-aware and dedicated to performing based on pre-meditated standards.

However, once the initial hype and “new-ness” of a change has died down, and people potentially recognize the lack of reinforcement or meaningful progress (should they not be maintained), productivity will inevitably die down until actual progress is seen.

Question 4: Is the workload evenly distributed?

Now, consider the delegation of workload among all people within an organization. Is it evenly distributed? Considering the change, do people seem to be busier?

An uneven workload among an organization can cause many of the resistance characteristics seen in unsustainable operational performance, however, in a much larger sense.

Having an efficient delegation strategy based on strengths and weaknesses is an important part of effective leadership. Occasionally a leader will choose a quick and reliable person to do most things, and thus pull the workload out of balance for the sake of trust and simplicity.

Keep in mind what Michael Bungay Stainier says in his book The Coaching Habit regarding what he calls the “drama triangle.” Ultimately he states that people generally fall into one of three attitudes based on various conditions, such as uneven workload. These three attitudes are Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. Each is capable of increasing resistance in an organization.

The Victim gives away all personal power to accomplish things based on the actions of others. They often feel as though they have been singled out and become overwhelmed with tasks. In this case, nothing gets done.

The prosecutor adopts the mentality that “if you want something done right, you’d better do it yourself.” These people may feel that the only person who is trustworthy to accomplish a task is themselves. Therefore they bite off more than they can chew and attempt to do the lions share of the work without distributing it to others or requesting a more even delegation.

Rescuers merely attempt to keep all people happy. They often suffer from overwhelming amounts of work that they adopt on themselves, but for an entirely different reason than persecutors do. Rescuers take on other people’s work to help them with their overwhelming tasks, yet end up increasing their own in the process.

Identifying and working with these characteristics in your group is a great way to sense an imbalance in workload among your teams. Left to their own devices, these characteristics create resistance and feelings of resentment towards others in the group or among teams in general.

Evenly distributing a workload is also necessary to the long-term longevity of change considering the nature of burn-out. It is often that the initial change, which occasionally suffers from an imbalanced workload, is productive until the point at which burnout takes place. At that point, the structure behind the workload crumbles and either destroys productivity or the change reverses back to the “old” way of doing things.

Question 5: How autonomous are your teams?

An autonomous team should be dedicated to the success of the overall mission and act accordingly despite the presence of a manager or accountability mechanic.
An autonomous team should be dedicated to the success of the overall mission and act accordingly despite the presence of a manager or accountability mechanic.

It is commonly known that good leaders “work themselves out of a job” so to speak. That is not to say they will be fired, far from it, rather it means that good leaders communicate purpose and function so well that over time their teams become autonomous. They can function wholly on their own.

As the leader for change, consider the nature of autonomy among your teams. It will likely take some time to make your teams autonomous after a change is implemented, however, autonomy is a great indicator that the change can be sustained in the long-run.

It is also likely that you, as the leader for change, will want to instill autonomy to ensure that you can focus on other tasks that may arise in the future. Often, an executive sponsor must delay certain duties in order to act as the sponsor for change within an organization.

Team autonomy is an important part of an organization’s efficiency. Although managers are always needed to enforce accountability, preferably, in an autonomous organization, managers are only needed to communicate between the operational and strategic levels.

Sustaining change in the long term means ensuring that your teams have the knowledge and ability to act without constant guidance. The only way that occurs is by properly shedding light on the direction of the company and giving proper incentive to enforce the actions of individuals.

Autonomy is often stated to be built upon 3 main foundational points. These points are Competence, Trust, and Mutual Understanding.

Competence: In order to perform to the desired levels, teams must be competent. That is to say, they must have the knowledge to perform tasks well and with the optimal solution in mind. Organizations that wish to focus on creating competence and change-readiness must ensure that the workers have the resources to aid them through their new duties.

Trust: The most important characteristic of high performing teams is trust, more specifically, psychological safety. Team members perform well when they feel more comfortable taking risks and making mistakes. They are more likely to resolve issues on the fly and come up with best practices in accordance with the culture of the company.

Mutual Understanding: Trust and Competency are great, but without a shared vision and direction (which must be communicated by the executive sponsor during change), a team will move in the wrong direction. No functioning team can become autonomous without first knowing where they are headed.

All in all, ask this question: How much do your teams rely on you for direction, guidance, or other operational concerns? If you left for just a few weeks (perhaps on vacation/business), what would occur?

Question 6: Were your expectations realistic?

Consider Question 2 from Part 4: Implementation which asks, “What have your metrics told you about progress?” The answer to that question is closely related to the nature of workload and expectations of productivity among teams.

For example, if you have found that your metrics were wildly off-base despite building awareness, desire, and knowledge among your teams, perhaps it was unrealistic expectations that must be faced on the strategic end of change.

This is important because if you have the tendency to continue creating unrealistic expectations, your teams may never reach them and will, therefore, be unsustainable merely due to inflated definitions of what is a realistic target.

Einstein cleverly stated, “If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts!” I believe this is relevant to the idealized and concrete nature that is bestowed upon targets set by unrealistic expectations.

Of course, that isn’t to say that you should lower expectations to match the performance of the team, far from it. Teams can always improve. However, you should simply never set expectations so high as to be debilitating to the strategic vision or demotivating to the employees themselves.

If you found that your expectations were not met nearly as often as you’d like in Part 4: Implementation, ask why? Consider whether your team’s functions are fundamentally flawed or whether they simply cannot hit the target as high as it is set.

Unrealistic expectations can never be sustained. And they will likely breed resistance within those in an organization who are comfortable and willing to revert back to actionable targets.

Should you find that the majority of goals and targets were hit during implementation, you likely can sustain the change. Time will be needed to adjust accordingly, but with the targets hit, you have proven competency and effective team functions.

Question 7: How comprehensive was the change? (Are there secondary changes that must occur to adapt to the original change?)

Change, by it’s very nature, is unpredictable. It is that unpredictability and ambiguity that is the driving force behind change resistance.

Occasionally, a change may not be initially comprehensive, that is to say, there are parts of a change that is overlooked or not considered during the planning process that must be adapted to along the way.

This is an important consideration for sustainability’s sake. A change that has not yet finished altering the organization itself cannot be sustained effectively. Attempting to do so will likely result in unfavorable consequences.

Consider what would occur if you reinforced a team behavior before results were achieved. If the results did not align with that behavior, you will have to become hypocritical of your previous reinforcement. Doing so is dangerous for morale and trust will crumble accordingly.

The same occurs when you attempt to make employee performance sustainable before secondary changes have been considered and dealt with. Should those secondary changes alter the effectiveness of employee performance, you will have to enforce different standards, and likely cause confusion in the process.

However, if a change is shown to be fully comprehensive (which is rare but doable with proper planning), then you can begin reinforcing employee and team behaviors that produce the desired results as seen through your chosen metrics.

The best way to plan for secondary changes is in the planning process, obviously. Deliberately listen to and consider the effect that change will have at all levels of an organization. That is the best way to plan for specific and varying issues that an organization may have. By planning for those issues, you greatly decrease the probability that secondary change will have to occur.

However, should secondary change be an unavoidable case within your organization, you will have to start the change process from the “desire” position of the ADKAR Model. This is because the strategic vision should ultimately remain the same and, therefore, awareness should not be affected beyond that nature.

Question 8: Is the change part of the organization culture yet?

Change will only become completely sustainable once the new processes have integrated themselves over time within the culture of the organization. A change that is not adopted by organizational culture in some aspects is still susceptible to the variables of resistance.

Consider the nature of comfort. Organizational culture occurs due to an innate familiarity and attitude among business processes. Therefore, a change that is not yet familiar or stable among an organization cannot yet be seen as part of its culture merely because that change is still unfamiliar and inhabitual.

When new processes brought about by change become habits, then you will begin to see the true nature of culture shift. This will begin to occur when a majority of people are on board and actively (and willingly) engaging with change.

Change often occurs in an exponential fashion due to this effect. It will start out being difficult to enforce awareness and desire to change, however, once more people are on board, they can help you get more people willingly active in change.

The result is an exponential curve with the line representing culture shift within an organization. (As seen below)

Here is the nature of time, commitment, and organizational change/culture.
Here is the nature of time, commitment, and organizational change/culture.

We can logically state that culture shift and change compounds upon itself. This is because company culture is entirely a result of the human side of business, and therefore, is susceptible to groupthink and herd mentality. Both of these things can work for you or against you. They will work against you in the beginning when people are more reluctant to change, but they will eventually shift with enough enforcement.

Question 9: Is there continued resistance? How do you plan on handling this?

Occasionally, a change will seem to have completely taken place, yet, there may still be unhealthy levels of employee resistance to the change. This is often shown as a reluctance to act in accordance with expectations, especially without managers around to keep employees accountable.

More often than not, this occurs due to enforcement without desire. That is to say, forcing employees to “sink or swim” and adapt to the change without first implementing desire or commitment among them.

They will do just enough to avoid consequences for insubordination, yet they won’t feel internally motivated or willing to perform when enforcers are not present. This ties back to autonomy, which states that a team should entirely perform the desired functions whether or not a leader or enforcer is present.

Continued resistance can be diagnosed through the five stages of ADKAR that we discussed earlier. Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement. These stages are like building blocks, one cannot occur without the others beneath it in order to elevate the organization into an improved state.

Ultimately, continued reluctance is due to a lack of desire to change among the employees. It is important to address this before cementing the nature of enforcement within an organization. Otherwise, you risk a lack of autonomy, continually increasing resistance, and what may eventually become a dictatorship in business practices.

The good news is that this is fairly simple to address. Do not continue doling out negative consequences, doing so breaks down trust and creative security. Instead, focus on methods of increasing a personal desire to change.

Remember WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) using that questions you can tailor communications to build a desire to change by stating the benefits of change to the individual. They need to personally value whatever those benefits are, and they must be willing to take risks to gain them, for that is what change is.

In fact, Jeffrey M. Hiatt stated in his book ADKAR that the most important function of effective change management is the ability to change just one person at a time.

Question 10: Are communications sustainable?

Communications are often ramped up in the event of an organizational change due to the need for passing information on awareness, desire, and knowledge.

However, the goal of autonomous teams and effective change is the ability to perform even in the case of little communication. Consider the nature of communication in your organization now.

Often, due to the influx of information that is required to change, greatly increased communication channels are unsustainable over long periods of time.

Consider whether or not teams are productive and performing well given the communication channels you have. Are those communication channels sustainable even after the change has occurred?

It is often the result of larger structure-based changes that require adaptable communication channels. This is because structural changes result in the creation or destruction of differing managerial levels. Proper communication among structures is much more difficult to attain than communications among people or systems.

This is due to the inherent gap that exists between entire levels of management. For example, imagine you are a team manager. Relative to the size of the organization, would you be able to call and speak directly to the CEO (or board) as easily as you could speak with a fellow manager of the same level? There are often hoops to jump through based on organizational levels.

Put simply, communication efforts that are greatly increased based on the need for change are usually unsustainable over long periods of time. In fact, they should not be sustainable.

Once the change occurs and properly seats itself among the culture of an organization, communication becomes less relied upon. This is a sign of good autonomy and awareness among organizational levels (just as long as proper targets are hit and direction is understood).

Ultimately, communication is always needed to purvey important resources, but should not always be necessary in order to sustain a change. After a point, change should occur naturally without indefinite and reinforced communication efforts.


These questions will give you a great idea as to the sustainability of change within your organization. Only when you have met these considerable criteria can you begin to review and analyze the change from a broader perspective in Part 6: Review and Re-adjust.

For more info on the basics of the ADKAR change model, click HERE!


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