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Why You’re Failing to Change Your Organization (And How to Do It Better)

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According to author Gregory Shea, 75 percent of change initiatives fail. It’s seeking to understand why change fails--and how it can be done better--that drove Shea and co-author  Cassie Solomon to write their new book Leading Successful Change.

Shea recently talked with us on the Excellence in Government Podcast and discussed just why so many organizations fail to change their culture and get the results they want. The reason, he said? Behavior.

Shea argues that change lives at the behavioral level, not the 30,000 foot view of organizations where so many conversations occur. When leaders talk about cultural change, what they’re really talking about is people change--specifically, the behaviors and actions people exhibit changing.

“One of the things that’s been particularly striking [about organizations over the years] is the absence of conversational time,” said Shea. “Actually coming up with blocks of time where...you get off the river to talk about what you’re going to do on the river. To actually create the time where you can say, ‘What are we trying to create here?’”

According to Shea, change begins with a vision. Painting a picture (sometimes literally) of actions that would occur if things were running in an ideal fashion. For instance, it’s not enough to say you want people to be proactive. Shea argues you need to get more specific, literally writing out scenes--like in a play--that you hope to see occuring in your organization.

“What would a scene that, if it unfolded, [your team] would say, ‘That’s exactly what I’m talking about! That’s it!’”

Listen to the Excellence in Government Podcast to hear more of Shea’s advice on how to lead successful change.

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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