Vision to reality

John W. Moran

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” - Woodrow Wilson

Taking a vision or a change concept to reality is a process that takes careful planning and execution. Unfortunately, many times we try to do it too fast and skip key implementation steps, start off on the wrong foot, communicate mixed messages on what it is, get derailed since we meet unplanned opposition, a key supporter leaves, or we just abandon the idea since it falls out of favor. When any of these things happens the change gets derailed and the people in the organization view it as a failure or another failure. Every time a change failure happens the trust the organization has built up with its employees deteriorates and, then, finally any change announced is viewed skeptically or is ignored.

When any organizational change is announced the employees immediately fear the worst, feel insecure, and want to know some answers to the following questions:

We have all been through many personal, technological, social, and work related changes in our lives. Some have worked out well and some have been a disaster. We tend to remember the disasters since they caused us the most turmoil, pain, discomfort, and waste of our time. The ones that worked out well tend to be forgotten since they went smoothly and did not cause any major disruptions to our life. What we want to achieve in any change program is for it to go smoothly and have minimal disruption to all involved. Making a smooth transition to the change is a process of balancing all 10 of the following elements of successful change.

10 Elements to make a smooth and successful change:

1. Why –develop a clear message on why we have to change. The message should articulate a compelling case for change. The message should lay out a well-defined change strategy. The change strategy should set out where you are currently and where you are trying to go, the specific steps that need to be taken to get there, and the potential tactics for implementing these steps.

2. What – the other part of the message needs to inform the people in the organization of what will happen if we do not change. This needs to be clear, simple, unambiguous, and easily understood. It is not a threat but a description of the reality of not changing. It must be realistic and not embellished but it must be ground in facts that they will understand and can verify.

In the first two elements the leaders of the change initiative must address the people’s fears, insecurities, and the reason to buy in and be engaged with the change.

3. How – develop a description of what will change in the organization. This gives the people in the organization a chance to see what they might lose and what they may gain. Getting people to agree to change depends on what they see in it for themselves. Show the specific steps that need to be taken to get there and the tactics for implementing these steps. The goal here is to minimize or eliminate a false start and have a smooth execution.

4. When – once we have the details it is time to sequence how we will proceed and when. This step takes the “Why, What, and How” into concrete action steps and begins to set the change into motion. The timeline can be modified but it needs to be as close to the original one communicated. If the people in the organization see a lot of starts, stops, redirection, and miscommunication they tend to withdraw from the change process and watch it deteriorate into another false start.

5. Commitment – the organization’s leadership has to be 100% committed to the change. Each leader in the change initiative has to sing the same ‘song of change.’ Any variations will be quickly picked up by the employees and be seen as a disagreement within the leadership about the change initiative further undermining the success to change. 

6. Skills – whenever change is announced there is a period of time where the people in the organization worry about whether they will have the capability to change. Part of the communications to the organization should detail when and where the resources will be available and how they can be obtained. The goal in this step is to make everyone feel comfortable that they will be supported in this endeavor and be able to make the change. If this is communicated correctly and the resources are available, then the anxiety level in the organization will be lowered.

7. Trust – the organization leaders must build and maintain trust with the employees that any change approach being taken is the correct one. Trust is something that needs to be built through the organization’s leadership commitment, communication, and consistent approach to the change initiative.

8. Momentum – every change takes longer than we think it will due to various unforeseen circumstances or situations. Imhotep (a pyramid builder) once said “New Pharaoh new Pyramid” –do not let your change initiative get hijacked if key players leave or are transferred. Make sure you have a sustainability plan in place for all contingencies that might happen while your change initiative is being implemented.

Besides major players leaving other situations to consider and plan for include an economic disruption, major unforeseen obstacles appearing, or the organization just loses interest in the initiative, etc. Once the momentum is slowed or stopped it is very difficult to get it going again. The key leaders of any change initiative need to be regularly checking the horizon to see if any obstacles are arising that could impede or derail the initiative and develop interventions to make sure the obstacles are minimized or eliminated.

9. Communication - regular and meaningful communication is a necessity along with meaningful engagement of everyone in the organization: People involved in a change initiative need to see a planned timetable of implementation activities working alongside the change strategy. The implementation timetable of activities needs to be evaluated at key stages to test impact and refine if needed. Every refinement needs to be communicated and the reason why the refinement was made clearly stated.

10. Sustainability –for any change initiative to be firmly established in an organization it needs to be owned at all levels. While the direction is clearly set from the top, every layer in the organization has to have the opportunity to contribute to how the change is implemented in order for them to feel they own it. 


The figure below shows the 10 Elements to make a smooth and successful change and a way to track where you are in the development of each element. Some  (in red) need to be 100% complete at the outset of the change initiative while others (in blue) can be completed during the change initiative. 

The Why, What, When, How, and Commitment Elements need to be 100% complete at the start since they are the key elements to start the initiative and sustain it. The Skills, Trust, Momentum, Communication, and Sustainability Elements can be at lower levels when you start the change initiative since some of them will be developed, decided and detailed out as things move forward. Since they will be key building blocks going forward, the last five Elements need to get to 100% completion as you are about 1/3 of the way into the change. 

The diagram below shows graphically how key organizational and personal ingredients interact to make a successful change. 

If the organization shows commitment, consistency, and the capability to make the change it helps to build trust in the organization that the change is real and doable. As the trust builds in the organization the leadership must continue the activation of the change and be persistent in their implementation strategy and intensify the communication to make sure they are reinforcing the need for change.

The employees must show a willingness to change and start examining their beliefs, values, behaviors, skill level, attitude and predisposition to the change. Once they have done this introspective analysis they need to invest the time and energy to make the change. In some situations past experience will be helpful and support the individual change level.