Nature gives us so many examples of rebirth after failure or destruction. One of the most dramatic is how quickly ecosystems recover after devastating forest fires. New growth can be seen springing from the fertile ashes of the fire, seed pods broken open by the heat will take root and spark the beginnings of the forests to come. In an organizational setting, it can be extremely difficult to sift through the ashes of a failed change and find the opportunities for renewal.
When working on change in an organizational setting, we often come up against change efforts that have failed or stalled. It is exceptionally difficult to ignite a desire for change when inertia has built up over time and has been reinforced because of successive failures to sustain change. This is what happens when an initiative fails to scale the change curve, cross the chasm or reach the tipping point.
In a previous post I talked about how Change Strategy is about changing direction when something unexpected happens. It can also be about getting injecting momentum into a staid situation. When things don't feel like they are moving forward, how do we get out of the doldrums and get wind back in the sails? Targeted intervention can refocus a team and find new opportunities, while keeping sight of the political, social and power structures that may be benefiting from the status quo.
The key thing to remember is that reviving a stalled or failed change often requires an abrupt change in direction. Trying to rally a team an organization and sponsors to surmount the same challenge again is very difficult. Psychologically, trying again after failure in a public environment is something that only the most resilient of us can do. In many organizations, failure is seen as an end point, and the "comeback storyline" has a specific narrative. A third way is to use the Change Strategy approach to create a sense of novelty in the initiative which will enable people to rally once again and help create momentum. Furthermore, the people who will resist the change can't use the previous state of failure to withhold their support for the new effort.
A key first step in using the Change Strategy approach to revive a failed effort is to paint a very clear picture of why it failed. This will create a shared understanding of what needs to happen differently in the new effort, but importantly, rehashing failure doesn't become part of the storyline going forward. Engaging stakeholders and listening carefully to the feedback is the most important step in the process. Once stakeholders see their feedback reflected in the new effort, it makes it easier for them to lend their support and starts to create the momentum that makes change happen.
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