Achieving Sustainable Performance With Organizational Change
Written by Joanne Rinaldi
Naturally, organizations want to achieve strong outcomes and benefits from change. When we engage with clients, we set that goal by defining project success at the outset of the initiative. But when we look at sustaining organizational change for the long term, there's a second and possibly more important goal to keep in mind: the goal to achieve sustainable performance.
Sustaining Performance as a Goal
As a Prosci Senior Change Advisor, my discussions with managers and executives focus on achieving a specific goal through their change initiatives. When you look at the center of the Prosci Change Triangle (PCT) Model, it's clearly about defining that success up front. Prosci's change management process, the Prosci 3-Phase Process, starts with defining success, so again, we are focused on achieving that ultimate goal.
But in addition to achieving the ultimate goal, we must look at sustaining a realistic level of performance over time. Health and well-being are important topics at the moment because people are feeling burned out. To help organizations address this and retain employees, we’re increasingly having discussions about aiming for a sustainable level of performance.
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Sustaining performance may not be at the same level we set out to achieve at the start of a project. This is one reason why I find the Prosci 3-Phase Process so powerful.
In Phase 2 – Manage Change, we start tracking performance and adapting actions, even before we reach the sustainment phase of the initiative. By the time we get to Phase 3 – Sustain Outcomes, we make even more adjustments by reviewing performance, identifying gaps and more. So, when we talk about defining success at the outset of an initiative, there’s an opportunity to identify an interim goal based on what the unique organization and its people can realistically maintain. This means we may have to adjust the original definition of success to align with the actual sustainment level possible, which results in long-term gain.
Sustainment in Athletes
The approach word-class athletes follow is a great analogy for sustainable performance in organizational changes. The ultimate success for an athlete to achieve is, arguably, winning an Olympic gold medal. The high-intensity training they undertake leading up to the event requires high performance energy, both mentally and physically.
Following the big event, the athlete shifts to a new goal of maintaining change readiness for the next competition. This sustainment level of fitness minimizes the risk of injuries and burnout without compromising fitness. More importantly, the approach enables the athlete to effectively transition to high-intensity training when the next competition approaches. This level of sustainment requires the athlete to track and review performance, get feedback, and make adjustments. Over time, the athlete’s success is defined by reaching many goals, before, during and after the gold medal event.
Sustainable Performance in Organizations
Leaders often target a high level of performance for long-term changes because they want to maximize return on investment (ROI) and save money. That work hard, play hard mentality can be exciting, but what about the long-term effects on employees?
Instead, we coach leaders and teams to aim for a goal of “adoption utilization proficiency.” We set the expectation of improving performance and then reaching a certain level of proficiency the organization can sustain without burnout.
Yes, there's an initial level of success we want to achieve, which gets everyone excited and motivated about having met that goal. But from a sustainable health and well-being perspective, especially with COVID-19 and the fallout we experienced, long-term success is critical. So, in the 3-Phase Process, when we reach Phase 3 – Sustain Outcomes, it’s all about going back and asking, “Is this sustainable?”
Achieving Success and the Change Management Process
When we define success using the Prosci 3-Phase Process, we ask the plain language question, “What are we trying to achieve?”
In 2020, COVID-19 required an urgent response from organizations to pivot to a remote working environment. We can identify multiple successes achieved in the overall change:
- Virtual connectivity – Home office setup, laptop, monitors, internet, phone, collaboration platform and apps, etc.
- People – Define impact of who and how they will do their jobs differently
- Accessibility – Remote access, security, roles and responsibilities, redirect inbound calls, etc.
- Productivity – Maintain business as usual (BAU)
In this scenario, productivity is the “gold medal” success goal achieved through the three successes leading up to it. The definition of success? Moving successfully to a remote business operating environment to maintain productivity.
In Phase 3 – Sustain Outcomes, the plain language question we ask under activate sustainment is, “What is needed to ensure the change sticks?” To answer this, we perform a variety of activities that lead up to maintaining a successful work-from-home model to ensure that people are productive, confident and competent working from home. And like our Olympic athlete, we are sustaining a level of fitness, so we are change-ready for our next goal, such as the hybrid working model.
The hybrid model is a project with multiple possible goals, depending on whether your organization considers it an interim or long-term model. Potential successes include:
- Hybrid model – As a short-term goal (interim) or long-term goal
- Partial Hybrid – Only some roles are hybrid for the long term while others are not
- Full return to on-premises work – Hybrid work is only part of the transition to the future-state goal
Regardless of the ultimate goal in this example, it is achieved through multiple interim successes that combine to define success for the organization.
Sustaining Outcomes as a Change Capability
For organizations, successful change requires adjustments throughout the change management process. It's never set. It's about taking the opportunity to go back and revisit expectations, have the conversations, and look at the change from a long-term perspective. Change management tends to miss that because we're so focused on the project side. At Prosci, we help clients build change capability with sustainability as a part of that long-term goal. Instead of grounding the definition of success in a work hard, play hard mindset that leads to burnout and employee turnover, organizations need to adopt a long-term perspective that enables people to remain change-ready for the next big event.