by Steve Adubato, PhD

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to implement a major restructuring of the public schools. In New Jersey, Governor McGreevey talks about the need to overhaul the state's child welfare system that some say is responsible for the recent deaths of two children in foster care. Countless corporations, non-profits and institutions of higher learning say they need to change in order to survive.

Yet, when it comes to real enduring change, talking about it is one thing, doing it is quite another. The obstacles and challenges to successful change are considerable. One of the biggest reasons change efforts fail is because so-called "leaders" refuse to acknowledge that these obstacles and challenges exist, much less deal with them directly.

With this in mind, consider some of the keys to successfully managing change in your organization:

--Make it crystal clear that there is an urgent need for change and that the status quo is unacceptable. Too often, organizational leaders propose change for the sake of change. That won't do. There must be a compelling rationale that is communicated in tangible terms, otherwise, buy in will be difficult at best.

--Explain in specific understandable language what the tangible benefits of this change will be. People need to see what the payoff is for investing in the change process. Don't assume they know, because they probably don't.

--Don't sugarcoat what it is going to take to implement this change, including the sacrifices as well as any pain that might be involved. If you do, employees could resent the change and you as the change agent for being less than honest with them.

--Facilitate an ongoing and highly focused dialogue with key shareholders through meetings, seminars as well as through printed and electronic communication.

--While being clear on the reasons for change, remain flexible and open to feedback regarding new and different approaches to implementing change. There is nothing worse than change agents who are rigid and closed-minded about anything other than their own ideas.

--Celebrate and recognize any success or accomplishment associated with the change effort no matter how small. People need to see progress in order to "buy in" to the change. Remember, everyone wants to be part of a winning team.

--When confronted with opposition to the change, see it as an opportunity. Don't duck hard questions. You will be perceived as someone who isn't truly convinced that the change really makes sense. If employees don't believe you believe in it, you can forget about them coming on board.

--Understand that any real change takes time. While a sense of urgency is important, so is having patience. It may sound like a contradiction, but it's not. Try to avoid becoming frustrated because some on your employees don't get it or refuse to get it. The status quo could be very attractive. People have a hard time moving outside their comfort zone. Try to be empathetic and understanding to this.

--Finally, avoid the temptation to pull out the hammer and force compliance with respect to the change. This rarely if ever works over the long haul. Too often, managers get caught up in the desire to have a change effort appear to be successful. That shouldn't be your goal. Rather, we should work toward getting genuine buy in to the change so your organization can reap the benefits the change was designed to produce.