Minna Kivimäki: No shortcuts to success in leading change

Change is slow, sometimes painfully slow. It can be sped up, but in our experience, for change to take root in everyday life takes time and requires certain phases. 


It all starts with building awareness. People need to be informed of the change that concerns impacts them as early as possible: what is happening, why and when. To a high extent, building awareness is about communications on different levels of the organization. Leaders communicate direction and rationale for the change, line managers explain what happens on a team level and when, communications department supports with general communications. Communications cannot, however, remain as one-way only, but instead people should be offered chances for asking questions and having answers. Even if there’s no answer to everything, people must be able to make themselves heard. 


Once the basic information on the change is communicated and available, it is time to start building a deeper understanding of what the change means in practice – to units, teams and, at the end of the day, to individuals. What does everyone need to change in their own everyday work, what new things to learn and which old ways of working to give up? Line managers are key in creating understanding. It is only line managers who can, together with their team members, define in enough concrete means what kind of changes are needed in the team’s and individuals’ actions. Discussions within teams and with line managers are essential in creating a common understanding. Change networks can also come to play here; the network members can concretise the desired change to a mundane level. 


It is only when people have good basic knowledge of the change and a common understanding on what the change requires of them in practice, they can start to adopt the needed skills to carry out the change in practical terms. They can take part in training and coaching. Training is, however, ineffective until there is enough knowledge and understanding of the concrete change –the learnings don’t necessarily sink in, when there’s not enough adhesion surface. Training can also not be the primary tool to add awareness and understanding, but instead there are other means for those as described above. 

It is also important to be able to let go of what was. Adopting the new and giving up the old requires the help of both leaders and line managers. It’s important that they show a good example of the desired change, and reward the organisation for even the smallest wins. Their job is also to remove the obstacles that inevitably get in the way of change. 


Change can be considered rooted, when people no longer return to their old ways even though the new way brings struggles. This takes time. Change is often carried out as projects, and in many cases taking root only really begins when the project is coming to its end. How do we make sure the change genuinely happens and remains as a permanent part of the everyday? Change needs persistency to communicate it for as long as it’s in any way a change. Successes must be celebrated, and people be supported for as long as they have given up the old way. Discussion and being heard is still needed. As a result of patient, persistent work will come a day when the change has become the new normal and is therefore no longer a change.