“You must either modify your dreams or magnify your skills.”
— Jim Rohn

Everyone has heard the saying that change doesn’t happen overnight, but often it does. Unfortunately, things can also go right back to where they were almost overnight, leaving many change initiatives remembered as nothing more than a quick advance followed by an even quicker retreat. When change efforts are remembered this way, future improvement efforts can be doomed. That’s why effective action to sustain change is just as critical as initiating the change in the first place.

In my previous article I focused on how leaders can create effective change. (If you would like to read that article you may access it by clicking here and opening the February 2006 issue.) I wrote about the importance of not just quashing resistance, but using it to your advantage. I also emphasized the importance of starting out on a positive note, and wrote about how to use the strengths of others to help you manage the change.

Understanding Change Dynamics

As I stated, leaders must anticipate the need for change, prepare a plan for future success, and then achieve results toward that vision through the people in their organizations. Sustaining change is all about the last point—achieving results through the people you lead. The bad news is that this is the hard part. The good news is that it can be achieved by following a few simple steps.

First let’s look at the Discovery Learning Transitions model that has been presented by leadership development consultants Chris Musselwhite and Randell Jones. In this model there are the four following distinct stages of change, and certain things leaders need to provide to support people as they go through them:

  • Knowing/Acknowledging—The need for change is acknowledged and a change is announced. Provide information.
  • Reacting/Responding—People react and respond to the change. Provide support.
  • Investigating/Exploring—People begin creating and exploring with regard to the change. Provide encouragement.
  • Implementing/Doing—People are implementing the change and institutionalizing it. Provide reinforcement.

The creators of this model say that people have three basic change styles and all three will go through these phases of change differently and at different times. These styles are:

  • Originators—Those who embrace change, jumping in with both feet. They enjoy risk, so much so that they may be oblivious to the consequences.
  • Pragmatists—They want to see changes that address current problems or challenges in a real way.
  • Conservers—People who want gradual, non-disruptive change. They also want to conserve as much of the old ways as possible as they meet the change.

Just by looking at these four phases, and considering that there are three different change styles that exist, it is easy to see that not all people will go through the phases of change at the same rate. It also should become apparent that each one of these change styles can have its place in certain phases, and that some change styles can complement others during different points in the process. The effective change leader and sustainer will be the one who recognizes these differences and uses effective communication to manage the change.

Find Other People to be the Doers

Nurses and physicians who become leaders bring a handicap with them to the change management process. More often than not, they are doers. This comes from their clinical background of finding the problem and personally taking action to fix it. Change management can’t work that way. If you are going to lead change across a department or entire organization, you can’t be the doer. Many leaders try, and they ultimately fail, and often end up burning themselves out in the process.

In any change process, people who are eager to embrace change (Originators) make themselves obvious from the beginning. From that crop of people, identify those that you know have particular strengths. For example, every organization has a “go-to” person who just seems to have a way with computers. He or she is always asked to help when someone has a question, and many times, that person may not be part of the IT team at all. If you have someone like that who is excited about the changes you are proposing, he or she might be the perfect liaison between the IT folks and the people in a department or on a unit. Encourage these people, empower them and give them every opportunity to infect everyone on both sides with their enthusiasm. With their ability to influence culture in a positive way, they could very well become your future organizational leaders.

Every organization has “show me the data” people. These are your Pragmatists. Their resistance to change is likely more about their natures than from a lack of faith in your ability to sustain change. They want to see the numbers, and they want to see them going in a positive direction because of your change initiative. They won’t buy into any change until they see that happening. But once they do, they will jump in with enthusiasm to help you manage the change going forward. Since measurement is one of the keys to successful change, you might identify these Pragmatists and put them on a committee that manages what to measure and then takes ownership of those processes.

In the previous article, one of our techniques at the end was to institutionalize the change. By institutionalizing processes, you make the change a permanent part of the organization and its culture. This is where you can bring the Conservers on board. These people, who you may have seen as your biggest resisters at the beginning, can really be the glue that keeps the change going forever once you get to the Implementing/Doing phase.

Putting it all Together

Remember that Originators generally enjoy risk, which makes them a good asset in the beginning of the change process, but keep in mind they might be oblivious to the consequences of jumping in with abandon. Conservers don’t embrace risk and they are aware of the possible consequences. You have to be able to bring them along so they will be there to help you sustain the change. Your Pragmatists provide you with a realistic assessment of the situation and the risks. You need to encourage them, because they form the bridge between your Originators and Conservers.

Expecting immediate results is another handicap that clinical people often bring with them to their leadership positions. You must realize that a patient satisfaction improvement program and a patient are two different things. The health of your patient satisfaction numbers is not going to improve tomorrow because you gave them a shot in the arm today.

Real change takes time. It also takes effective communication from you as the leader. You need to be out there celebrating short-term wins and rewarding people. You need to be actively empowering people to act on the changes you’re trying to implement. And you need to be seen as the embodiment of the change you want to see in your organization.