phases of change

3 Phases of Change

Uniqueness of Change

Change management does not have a one-size fits all solution. It’s almost like a flu. If two friends or work colleagues each catch a flu at the same time and with the same symptoms, it is quite likely that if they visit a pharmacy, they will be given different prescriptions.

Why is this? Because of their individual health composition. Each has a unique tolerance to the virus or bacteria and they react to medicine differently.

Businesses also have that unique individuality because of the people in it. In fact, it is said that while businesses may be easily duplicated at every front, the one thing that cannot be copied is the working culture which finds its footing in the people who work there.

Over time I have found that change management in different organisations, large or small, takes various formats of implementation but there is a similarity in one thing. At every stage of change, there was a ‘zoom in’ and ‘zoom out’ effect that allowed change teams to constantly review their progress and move on towards the next phase. It was almost like drawing a 6-point star.

The six external points of the star refer to the zoom outs and the internal ones indicate a zooming in.

Phase 1: Before the Change

Change implies a turn away from or turning to something, hence the term turnaround. Turnaround also points to redirecting efforts from a bad business trend towards a positive direction.

Through my experience of turning around some business units and small businesses, I have concluded that a turn around expert is like the emergency room doctor who receives a critical patient and everything they do determines whether the patient lives or dies.

By the time an organization is up for a turn-around, a couple of things would have happened (or not):

  • Existing/ former management could have just been winging it with luck and customer goodwill being their riders
  • The business solution to the marketplace makes so much sense that the customers just couldn’t do without it
  • No one planned for success or getting to this point, so no one saw the current state of affairs coming
  • Markets shifted and no one had the ability or guts to change with the times

This list is long and it is important that, as one who is considering to take on the responsibility of implementing a change initiative, you identify what got the business to that point of needing change. As you do so, learn or be aware of how to read what is not written, see what is not obvious to the naked eye. Think on your feet while your hands and head are busy delivering a solution that can be built upon sustainably.

Successful turnarounds always start with an evaluation process. You, the turn-around executive must do a comprehensive and objective assessment of the business for three main reasons:

a) To identify the cause(s) of the downward trend

b) To determine if there is something worth saving/ fighting for

c) To identify what can be used as a foundation for the turn-around

Phase 2: Implement & Assess the Change Process

Phases of Change

Having done your assessment, you move on to the next phase which is implementing the identified changes. 

Because successful change cannot be achieved through solo-action or single-mindedness, it is important for you to:

  • have a team to work with so that you can leverage on other people’s strengths
  • have sufficient resources or efficiently manage the limited ones that you have
  • seek out ideas that may be superior to yours so as to achieve the desired (or better) results
  • constantly check your progress against the plan to make sure you are on course to achieve your targets

Phase 3: After the Change

It is A. R. Bernard who says “Life is lived on levels and arrived at in stages. Each stage takes us to a new level of relationships, knowledge, understanding, authority, and responsibility”.

There’s no better process than a strategic turnaround to live out these profound words. When you get to the end of a turnaround process, you realize that the motivation to keep going is different because you have achieved a certain goal you had set. In wisdom, that new goal is not set at that endpoint, it is created before the turnaround begins.

By the end of a turnaround, the business is also demanding a different set of management skills. So, either you develop those new skills, or you equip someone to take on after you. Herein lies the Achilles Heel of many turnaround executives -they fail to recognize that the success factors that drove them during the turnaround cannot sustain further success.

It’s like going on a safari equipped for mountain hikes. Your gear will need to change once you land on the beach and you have two options -either prepare yourself for the beach or leave that part of the journey to someone else.

For more details about the 3 phases of change, get my book Strategic Business Turnaround: Basic, Strategic & Practical Steps to Getting Your Business Profitable Again available on Amazon

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Wangari Maina

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