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Making Change Happen in a Global Age

In an interview with Leader’s Edge, Timothy R. Clark, the international thought leader, offers a four-step approach that companies can use to go through major change. The four stages of the process are:

1. Evaluation
2. Preparation
3. Implementation
4. Consolidation

Clark used the word “major change” in his discussions because, he explained, he was talking about transformations from departmental to functional to corporate. “Anything that disrupts people from the status quo needs the EPIC program.”

According to Clark , the EPIC process demands much more work than traditional change efforts. Clark described how leaders try to “smuggle change into their organizations”; that is, they try to keep it a secret because they’re afraid that the idea will be too disruptive and consequently people won’t accept it.” Alternatively, he said, leaders try to force the change on the employees. “Neither works effectively,” he explained, “because the leaders don’t communicate very clearly from the outset what they’re trying to do, and then solicit participation in the process.”

Why is this approach better? As Clark explained, it gives people the opportunity to raise concerns, challenge assumptions, and then reconcile themselves with the change and the journey that they’re going to be doing on. So it helps. It’s a healthy approach and a very necessary one.”

As Clark described the four stages:

The evaluation stage. This is the stage during which we determine how we are doing and what it is possible to do in the future. It also involves an evaluation of the external environment, scanning the competitive landscape. “When we are not in the throes of change,” said Clark , “we should be in this mode. We should be continuously evaluating.”

As Clark explained, “What leaders should try to do in the evaluation stage, and later in the preparation stage, is to condition individuals in the organization for the journey ahead.”

The preparation stage. This stage enables employees “to calibrate themselves in light of the pace of change anticipated—what I call ‘the rate of the melt.’ They need to be tuned in to how fast the ice is melting so that they can determine how long their current competitive advantage will last and, obviously, how long it will take to renew their competitive advantage through some form of transformation.”

Clark referred to the importance of agility, observing that “it is intellectual and emotional, as well as physical, and taps into myriad resources. It can be a taxing experience to go through a major change. So all of the conditioning in agility that you can do in the early stage will help a great deal.”

Clark noted that there are three categories of adaptive challenge. First, there is opportunity to which to respond. “You can’t really make it out very well, but you think there’s an opportunity.” According to Clark , trends make up the second category and can represent a clear and present danger. Finally, there is adaptive challenge in the form of a crisis. “That calls for a company to get as far ahead of that likelihood as possible and adopt a plan of betterment.”

Clark also spoke about corporate credibility, which is composed of four elements, namely, the character of the leader, the professional competence of the leader, the commitment to respond to change, and finally personal concern that is shown toward those who will be involved. Without credibility based on those four elements, he said, the leaders are in a very, very difficult spot—they won’t have the ability to move the organization in the direction of change it needs to go. Clark noted that in many of the cases he had studied, “there were change initiatives that had great budgets, that had a lot of time to work, that had the technology that was needed, and that had the expertise available. "Still,” he said, “these projects failed. They failed because they didn’t have leaders who had mobilizing capacity. They didn’t have leaders who had the respect of the people who were needed to support the effort.”

The implementation stage. Here’s where it is critical to have built a coalition to make the transformation happen. Ideally, for implementation to be successful, you should also have some early results to encourage ongoing enthusiasm for the change.

“Early positive results give people a sense of forward motivation and also a sense of confidence that they should keep going so the effort will be successful,” according to Clark.

The consolidation stage. The last stage of the epic process, consolidation, really means that we make the change strong and lasting in the organization. The change is structural and also behavioral and, finally, is a part of corporate culture. “Once change sinks itself into the cultural layer,” said Clark , “we’ve got something that is sustainable.”