How to Approach Change Management
How many times have you implemented a new system or a process only to have push back from your employees? Did you prepare your people for change and set them up for success? Did they know it was coming, and were they onboard? Change management quite frequently is an after-thought. Change Management can be difficult. Some may think that it’s common sense, but you would be surprised at how many organisations take it for granted. Readying your people for change should be instinctive for leaders but is commonly the last thing that is thought of, if at all.
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
– Niccolo Machiavelli
With COVID upon us, change is here to stay. Facilitated well, it can be a positive experience. Poorly and it can be crippling. Many times, I have witnessed a new system or process implemented only to have it fail or miss the mark. Was it the solution at fault? Perhaps. But more times than not, it was the Change Management plan implemented or lack thereof to deliver the system or process. When change is thrust upon an employee with little to no notice, one can feel anxiety and out of their comfort zone. Everything that employees knew has now changed, leaving them feeling uncertain, scared, and frustrated. Scared and frustrated employees are not happy, productive employees. Scared employees will fight the change and revert to old ways, thus not utilising the new system or process while spreading negatively throughout the workplace. Sound familiar?
Change Management isn’t only an approach but should form part of your workplace culture. Speaking openly and transparently in your business as well as supporting your people and their opinions will add to your organisational identity. There are many tools out there that can assist with Change Management programs. Choose one that is easy to use and fits in with your workplace culture, depending on how small or large your change is, the crux of preparing your people for change is communication, support, ownership, and reflection.
Communicate the why. You would be surprised how many people do not know why a change is taking place—the why is so important to frame the narrative of the change. As a leader, the change may make absolute sense to you; however, you may be privy to more of the internal dealings of the business than your employees are.
It is human nature to want to know what’s in it for me. Do not view this as selfish behaviour but more so as part of the human psyche. It is instinctual to want to ensure you are safe and protected. Be upfront with your employees from the start as to what the change means to them, even if you don’t know. If you are not, this could be perceived in a negative light that there may be something that you are hiding.
Do your people know what will happen if you do not progress with the change? Paint the big picture for your people. Your employees are invested in the business’ success. If the business is successful, then, therefore, they are successful. You are all in this together.
Actively seek regular feedback from your people throughout the process. Who better to get feedback from than the people in the thick of things? People generally just want to be heard. You may not agree with all you hear, though it is better than it is said and out in the open than not at all. This will give you the opportunity to remove roadblocks and mitigate negativity. Feedback is a gift and may give you some fantastic ideas to better implement the change along the way. Another point of view can be useful for validation. This also is an opportunity to identify early adopters in your business and turn them into change champions to advocate positively for your change.
Communication starts from the top. It is important to ensure your message is consistent at every level of the business. The content of the communication also must be consistent, so your people are not confused. Communicate regularly in a clear and concise manner in an array of avenues, both in written and verbal forms. Use the opportunity to communicate in formal and informal meeting settings. It can be handy to use infographics and diagrams for those that are visual learners.
“Powerful and sustained change requires constant communication, not only throughout the rollout but after the major elements of the plan are in place. The more kinds of communication employed, the more effective they are.”
– DeAnne Aguirre
Communicating the above gives your change context, dispersing pre-conceived assumptions and therefore removing roadblocks and mitigating fears. This will allow your people to focus on the outcome.
A support structure in place is necessary for all employees. Upper management, middle management and employees all have a right to feel and be supported. Leaders need the tools to be able to recognise behaviours in their employees so they can move them towards accepting the change and out of the potential negative behaviour they may be displaying. It is common for people to feel angry, frustrated or scared. Leaders must be able to recognise these behaviours to ensure your leaders can support their team members through the change process. Leaders must be equipped to handle objections effectively, efficiently, and quickly to ensure they do not spiral.
Plan and document how you will execute, communicate, and reflect on your change. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. It is better to be over-prepared than not at all. It can also be a useful practice to identify objections or questions that you believe will arise. As a leadership team, crafting the responses and formulating a Q&A document for your leaders to reflect on can also help to keep the message consistent and give your leaders confidence in dealing with objections.
“The announcement is the easy part; it makes the manager look bold and decisive. Implementation is more difficult because no matter how good and compelling the data, there will always be active and passive resistance, rationalizations, debates, and distractions – particularly when the changes require new ways of working or painful cuts. To get through this, managers have to get their hands dirty, engage their teams to make choices, and sometimes confront recalcitrant colleagues.”
– Ron Ashkenas and Rizwan Khan
Cultivating a positive mindset in your team or workplace will not only help to promote change but will create an environment that your people want to be a part of. Mindset has the ability to impact all aspects of your business, from productivity to sales, employee retention and attraction, as well as the success of changes in the business.
“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful, it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful, it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident, it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.”
– King Whitney Jr.
Supporting your people is integral to the change management process. It is just as important to support those that are accepting of the change as those that are not. Your people are vital to your success. They have the potential to make or break your change.
Ownership and Reflection
Quantify your goal by creating a metric or a SMART goal that you can measure your success against. Whether it be an increase of sales by 30% or a reduction of errors by 15%, quantifying your goal is the only way to truly know if your change has been a success. Routinely track your achievements and share the outcome with your people. Your people are part of the success, and this helps to create buy-in. People intrinsically want to succeed. Tracking and communicating goals promote ownership and a positive culture with the business.
Perhaps, your change wasn’t a success in the timeframe you set? This can be still an opportunity for continuous improvement. Reflect with your people to identify what worked well and not so well and come up with ideas for improvement together. Document your lessons learnt so you can reflect on these the next time you are facilitating a change in your business. Take the time to really think about how you may approach an aspect differently next time. And don’t make the same mistakes twice…
Everyone isn’t going to like every change every time. Nor is every change going to be a success. However, if you promote a culture of reflection, feedback and ownership, as well as owning what did and did not work, change can be something that is celebrated within your business.
“The people must have ownership in the vision. They need to be enabled to accomplish it. If there is one investment you should make, it is in people.”
– Modesta Lilian Mbughuni
Celebrate the change. Celebrate what you have achieved. Acknowledge the hard work your people have put in. And set your next target to greatness!
“If you are entrusted with bringing about change, you likely possess the knowledge needed to advance the organization, and you might have a plan — but knowledge is not enough. You have to bring yourself to each interaction in a deeply authentic way. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
– Doug Conant
In essence, I believe you need to take your people with you on the journey. You may be steering the ship, but they work it, so get them involved and on the side. And most importantly, look after your people, and they will look after you.
Written by Kristelle Cooney, Implementation Manager, Traveltek.