Article | 24 July 2018

Change is a part of any successful company's growth

The ability to affect major change is increasingly becoming a critical determinant of competitive advantage. Yet, delivering successful change is one of the toughest challenges that companies face

The ability to affect major change is increasingly becoming a critical determinant of competitive advantage. Yet, delivering successful change is one of the toughest challenges that companies face: Studies show that 75% of large-scale corporate changes fail. How, then, do you make sure your company’s change initiatives beat the odds? Well, there’s a way of thinking and a tool that can help.

DICE—Duration, Integrity, Commitment, Effort—is a simplified statistical formula that predicts whether a change program will succeed or fail and how to adjust accordingly. It was created by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG)—a founding member of the Brightline Initiative, an organization dedicated to helping executives bridge the expensive and unproductive gap between strategy design and delivery. "DICE dramatically enhances the effectiveness of leadership and staff dialogue around how to structure and manage change efforts" says Perry Keenan, creator of the DICE framework and Senior Partner and Managing Director at BCG. Namely, it helps senior leaders evaluate, discuss, and address key issues surrounding change efforts early on to increase their likelihood of success. Equally, the statistically based objectivity of DICE provides a powerful means for both teams and leaders to identify and engage on red flag issues much sooner than would otherwise be the case.

To understand how DICE works, take a look at each component in practice, although the full richness is in the combination of the components:

Duration: Why regular check-ins are key to success

The longer a change initiative takes or, perhaps more importantly, the more time that lapses between progress checks, the more likely it is that the change effort will veer off course. If it's impossible to shorten the length of a project (which, let's face it, often that's the case), then the next best option is to break it into regular, formalized milestones. This requires forethought and teamwork, but the payoff is well worth it to increase the odds of success.

For any critical project, the DICE framework recommends scheduling standard "learning milestones"—formal meetings where executives review the execution of projects, discuss critical interdependencies, identify gaps, and both assess known risks and spot new risks within projects. At these meetings, senior executives should pay attention to the dynamics and resourcing within teams, changes in the team's perceptions of the initiative, and how effectively leaders are communicating with the rest of the organization. These "learning milestones" create the conditions for executives to knowledgeably intervene and make any needed course corrections.

Brightline principle 9—develop robust plans but allow for missteps—reinforces objective analysis during these learning milestones by encouraging teams to learn quickly from their mistakes.

Integrity: Build the right teams

People are ultimately the drivers of any company change. Organizations must increasingly identify and rely on cross-functional teams of managers, supervisors, and staff to execute transformative projects successfully. A critical first step is to select a top-performing leader who can effectively lead the project team. Executives must pair initiatives with the corresponding strengths of team leaders and to prioritize and assign talent accordingly.

Organizations must also build a team behind the leader that has the right skills to get the job done and ensure their objectives and roles are defined. The success of change programs depends on the quality of these teams—and that quality can be limited by the amount of time teams are able to devote to the project versus regular day-to-day operations. Striking the right balance between the two is integral to building the integrity of the team.

Congruent with team integrity, Brightline's third principle focuses on dedicating and mobilizing the right resources, to help leaders assign the right people to get the job done.

Commitment: The rule of three and nine

Companies need to ensure that both senior leaders and employees are committed if they want big change projects to take root. Visible backing and action from the most influential senior leaders and their direct reports is vital to inspiring buy-in from those on the front lines. Late or inconsistent communication with staff can alienate the people who are most affected by changes, so senior leaders should communicate with staff early and often and be aligned in their messaging.

"The rule of 'three and nine' serves as a useful rule of thumb in communication effectiveness," says Keenan. "Specifically, leaders should communicate three times more than seems instinctively reasonable to them during a time of major change. In most organizations, people usually need to hear a message nine times for them to understand what it really means for them."

Brightline's sixth principle urges executives to promote team engagement and cross-business cooperation, helping to drive the level of commitment needed for project success.

Effort: Recognizing the need to go above and beyond

When companies launch change initiatives, they often insufficiently consider the fact that their people are already busy. The amount of additional effort that people can handle in addition to their current responsibilities needs to be an explicit consideration. Companies must ensure that day-to-day operations don't falter when employees are called to adopt a new way of working. The greater the additional effort required, the more likely it is that the change effort will experience difficulties, morale will be impacted, and conflict will arise.

NASA, an organization that deals with change and complex issues on a regular basis, assesses its talent pool based on both current and anticipated needs. And, it keeps close track of who possesses which skill set. Organizations can adopt this tactic for themselves, so that when a change is being implemented, senior leaders can understand if their people are capable of handling the new tasks and procedures or if additional resources are required.

Brightline principle 8—check ongoing initiatives before committing to new ones—can help leaders understand and take into account the current workload and impact of the organization.

Putting it all together

Used in many organizations globally, published in HBR's "Ten Must Reads on Change Management" and granted a US Patent, DICE's success is proof that, irrespective of industry, organizations around the world are made up of people who behave in remarkably similar ways. As such, DICE stands as an objective benchmark reference to help organizations learn from the successes and failures of others. This enables them to better understand the vulnerabilities of change projects and focus efforts exactly where needed. Simply stated, it makes beating the odds a reality.

To learn more about DICE, try a free interactive assessment.

View an infographic of the DICE framework.