Avoiding Failure to Launch: How to Successfully Implement Change at Your Firm

Feel the Pain

The first step to successfully launching a game-changing initiative is to truly feel the pain. The pain of staying the same must begin to outweigh the pain of change, or you may end up with a lack of motivation for change. Change is difficult; it requires effort and the ability to work differently. You must recognize the need for change, and then decide when to begin working on the initiative.

Generally, individuals and organizations resist change and do not embrace it unless it is a requirement. This is not to say that professionals do not like change – many embrace it. I am referring to changes in the way people work or in the things they do. When we ask people to work differently for the good of the firm, we sometimes get pushback because change can be uncomfortable. Because of this, even those who like change can struggle at first, and this can derail the process.

Many times, change does not occur unless the need is critical. Pain drives change, and this change occurs when people suffer the consequences of something. This could include missing out on an important opportunity or finding themselves in a position where they are at risk in some way. We have seen a trend in firm leadership realizing that their legacies, firms and financial security could be at risk if they don’t begin putting a succession plan in place. This realization drives change in their behavior. Where succession planning has not been terribly convenient in the past, the realization of the need for it is certainly driving behavior.

Failure to launch occurs when the idea for change is seen as an unattainable goal or a new popular initiative to attempt, but the need is not pressing. In these cases, the importance of the change has not been communicated well. Leaders must be able to recognize the firm’s greatest needs and allow others to “feel the pain” of staying the same and not moving forward.

See It to Believe It

For change to take place, you must visualize meeting your goal. What will the desired change accomplish in the short- and long-term? For example, when people diet, they typically have a mental image of their goal weight and condition, meaning that they visualize having met their goal at some point in the future. You should do the same as your goal relates to your organization. What will it look like when your firm is growing at this rate consistently? What will it mean to your income, what will it mean to your client mix, and what will it do for the future leaders of the firm? Set your sights on the target. If you can see it, you can achieve it.

Leaders need a vision to be successful. A vision is important because it allows you to look into the future and strive to achieve more than you have ever achieved. If you imagine meeting a goal, you will start to wonder and plan on how to achieve it. After that, you will start to wonder and plan on how to make it a reality. With enough vigor, you will eventually work out how to achieve your ultimate goal. These actions start in your head, but become a reality with enough drive and motivation.

Failure to launch happens when the leadership fails to see the importance of the change. You are busy with the general running of your firm, but it is your responsibility to enroll others in visualizing what this change can and will do for them, for the firm, and for the future. You must remind them and yourself of this regularly.

Regardless of whether you are upper management or middle management, you have an impact on how successful your firm will be in accepting and adapting to change. Ultimately, the amount of effort put into making the changes a reality will be determined by the buy-in of all those involved.


Create a Sense of Urgency

One of the largest mistakes that firms make when trying to change their organization is to plow ahead without establishing a sufficient sense of urgency. They often underestimate how hard it is to drive people out of their comfort zones and into the change zone.

For change to happen, you must develop a sense of urgency around the change. The more people talk about the change, the greater the sense of urgency to have it occur. Talking about change is like visualizing having met a goal. It creates excitement and motivates all of those involved. Showing statistics and talking about increased competition is simply not enough to motivate those to make change a priority.

Failure to launch occurs when other work gets in the way. The urgency dissipates, and leaders shrug off the initiatives repeatedly to focus on what they feel is more urgent work. It is a lot easier to work towards a goal over time than to be faced with an urgent need and have to scramble to meet the need. Take the example of succession planning from before. Think of how much more effective a firm can be at developing future leaders if there is ample time to do so. It becomes more difficult if you are running out of time.

Kotter suggests that for change to be successful, 75 percent of a company’s management needs to “buy into” the change. In other words, you must work hard on identifying threats and resistance, and spend significant time and energy building urgency, before moving onto the next steps. Proceeding too quickly without proper preparation in order to avoid further short-term losses could result in failure.

Be Willing to Work the Plan

Hard work is required to run a practice. Ask any good partner. To be successful in launching change in your firm, you must be willing to work the plan. First, be realistic about the changes needed and the work involved to make it happen. Anticipate the steps to achieving your goals at the beginning. For example, you are implementing a better billing and collections process in your firm, and may be required to have several meetings to develop the process. This may include having difficult conversations with your partners and working a few more hours a week for a couple of months to stay current on your billing and other work so you are in compliance. When you anticipate the requirements of the plan and are willing to work it, you will be prepared for success.

Failure to launch happens when you buy into an idea but do not anticipate the heavy lifting required to achieve it. Think of how crowded gyms become on January 1st of each year but how the crowd thins over the year. Know what you are getting into and stick with it. Typically, as with anything, the heavy lifting at the beginning gets easier once you have the momentum going.

In order to make change initiatives stick, they need to be thought through fully and ensured that they are needed. Often, change initiatives fail, not due to the initiatives, but due to the company having more pressing issues that need attention. The key is to enforce what really needs change first.

Utilize Your Team

Do not try to own every piece of an initiative yourself. You will burn out. Yes, I know you sometimes think you can probably do it better if you are in charge of it all, but if you do not delegate tasks, the likelihood of it being delayed is higher. You may not immediately fail, but over time your other obligations could get in the way of successfully implementing other items of interest. A smarter approach for creating change is to involve key leaders in implementing portions of the plan. Involve practice leaders, senior managers, firm administrators, and marketing directors and allow them to “own” certain initiatives. Oversee the process while giving them the freedom to determine the best way to implement their part of the plan.

Failure to launch occurs when the strategy and purpose are not clearly communicated to the stakeholders. Other key people are not brought in. Managing change is not enough; you need to lead change for it to be successful. To lead change successfully, you will need to bring together a group of influential people who come from all different areas within the firm. These people will ensure that tasks get accomplished and that everyone is onboard with the changes being implemented.

When change is managed effectively, you can move towards a business-as-usual phase, meaning that your team adapts well and, therefore, experiences minimum disruption. Projects succeed, rather than stall and fail.

Recognize Achievement and Progress Along the Way

In order for leadership and staff to remain enthusiastic about the changes being implemented, you should recognize achievements and acknowledge the efforts of those who are supporting and positively affecting the initiatives. Lack of recognition can and does eventually wreak havoc on morale. Change can be harder on some people than others; a change in workload or method used can affect a person. Recognize the efforts that are being made to execute the changes.

Motivation for success comes in many different ways, none more so than recognition. Reward small achievements at the start of the change process, and it will create the motivation to proceed. Having results that people can see is beneficial, as it will deter the cynics and negativity that may be present. Having interim goals as well as an overall goal will be beneficial. After all, you cannot climb a mountain without taking the necessary steps to get to the top.

Failure to launch also occurs when leaders take progress for granted. High expectations from leaders are important, but many miss the mark when it comes to motivating others to achieve goals.

You can accelerate the change process through recognition. Recognizing and celebrating achievements reinforces the reasoning behind why changes are being implemented and boosts morale. Recognition can be shown in many different ways depending on the firm’s culture, during meetings, individually, at gatherings, or whichever way you feel is appropriate. Why wait until the end of the process? Celebrate along the way, and inspire others to get more involved.

So, while some firm leaders have regular success in initiating change, even though it looks easy, it is not. It requires patience and hard work. However, you can create a culture that embraces challenges and change more easily over time through having small successes and continuing to set new goals for your people and your firm. As more initiatives are successful, the appetite to achieve more increases. Not only will people believe in what their firm can accomplish, but will believe in what they can accomplish as well.

About the Author

 Angie serves as President of The Rainmaker Companies. She advanced from her previous position as Director of Consulting, which she held for over ten years. Her role in the firm involves high-level strategy, thought leadership, consulting, and program and curriculum development. She transforms the lives of clients through innovation, goal setting, coaching, training, and accountability development.