“Why don’t people love our brilliant ideas?” Rick Maurer laughs as he asks this rhetorical question.
It is one executives both in and outside the world of finance are increasingly having to ask themselves. Creating smart, flexible strategies to solve complex problems is only one small facet of the challenge executives face today. Turning those strategies, indeed those very ideas, into part of an organizational workflow is a different task entirely.
Almost 70% of all changes made within organizations fail, according to the research of Maurer, a change management expert and author. Maurer, who spoke at the Beyond Budgeting Conference in Chicago recently, says leaders need to be as inclusive as possible in the beginning of a project with all of the stakeholders who may be affected. They need to freely share information and be prepared for inevitable resistance.
Maurer says there are often three reasons why change implementations often fail: the stakeholders don’t understand it (which is confusion); they don’t like it (which is fear); or they don’t like you (which is an issue of trust).
Establishing that trust begins with connecting on an elemental level. Maurer describes one CFO who tried forcing change on his company and received, as he described, “malicious compliance.”
“Most leaders are perfectly good at the basics of getting started: establishing a strategy, goals and metrics,” he says. “But what gets missing is the engagement. They have to make a compelling vision, where it resonates intellectually and emotionally, where it connects the dots and they realize that change won’t just help the company—but help them as individuals.”
One of the most common errors leaders make in rolling out new projects is not realizing where the finish line is. When a new software suite, for instance, goes live, executives and consultants will often move on to other things.
“What they don’t realize is you’re still having to push that sucker uphill,” says Maurer. “It’s one thing to go live, but it’s another to actually have everyone use it.”
Detailed PowerPoint presentations, slogans, T-shirts and coffee mugs don’t necessarily create stakeholder enthusiasm. In a time of cynicism toward authority and organizations, leaders have to find ways to connect to their workers in ways that personalizes the challenge. Even more importantly, leaders have to follow through, says Maurer.
In this way, Maurer believes that leaders often underestimate the power of symbolism.
“People look at their leaders and what they have to say, but what they do and how they carry themselves is just as important,” says Maurer. “To roll out a new change and then go on travel, even if it might be important, sends the wrong message. Leaders don’t have to be in the weeds, but it’s the power of presence. When they sense the advocate has left town, everybody notices. You’ve pricked a balloon.”
Maurer compares instituting change within an organization to a patient trying to reduce his or her cholesterol level: they can spend time understanding the medical condition, consult a physician, know what exercise and diet changes need to made and have specific goals in mind. But in the vast majority of cases, these efforts fail.
The same is true for organizations. No amount of training, motivation or practice will help unless leaders examine the underlying issues that stop any change they lead.
“The biggest misconception that’s out there is that a good idea will win at the end of the day,” says Maurer. “The phrase, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ is false. It’s fiction. That’s not the way the world works. Somehow, we get into our heads that with a good idea, we just have to explain it and we’ll receive applause and everything will come together. But there’s a whole emotional, human side to the issue that too often we give short shrift.”