Businesses today are experiencing rapid transformation at a rate which outpaces their predecessors just three decades ago. This underscores the importance of successful change management in organizations — that is, managing and implementing change in a way that does not disrupt the business. However, it is not uncommon for executives in the same organization to have different ideas about the critical success factors that are essential for proper change management.
The first thing that has to be understood by anyone involved in organizational change is that, at its core, change management is fundamentally about people. It concerns the processes, strategies and activities for managing the transformation and how it affects them. Change management does not happen in isolation. Rather, it centers on a structured approach for ensuring that all stakeholders are in agreement to work together for smooth implementation throughout the entire transformation process – be it simple office relocation, major policy shift, or employee restructuring. Key to the process is putting measures in place that help people understand the ‘why’ behind the change. When people are able to clearly see the vision behind the change, they are more likely to own the change, and assist in making the process successful.
As Alvin Toffler said, “Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”
What change management means for business
When implementing change, it is important for executives to recognize and acknowledge the co-relation between employee productivity and revenue. This is because forced change can have a decidedly negative impact on employees and result in negative behaviors that impact productivity and growth of the business.
Various studies have indicated that employee productivity is more impacted by intrinsic reward rather than financial compensation. Simply put, employees who feel valued and are assured that their work and opinions matter are happier on the job, and are, by extension, more productive. Therefore, when it comes to change management, the impact on employees must be a considerable factor in determining how the process will unfold. It is critical that communication is maintained with all stakeholders in order to lessen the possibility of resistance.
Of course, resistance to change is a normal response, especially if it involves a comprehensive transformation that affects employees on a personal level. For the process to move smoothly, it is important to identify beforehand any possible resistance to the proposed project, as well as the main sources of this resistance. If left unchecked, persistent resistance can threaten the success of the transformation, and derail other change management processes. Employees, managers and external stakeholders are all part of the transformation process within an organization and, as such, feedback from these groups must be solicited as part of the change management process. If resistance is encountered, it is essential to have dialogue and invite feedback, and move swiftly to implement corrective action that addresses the concerns raised.
“It is in human nature to be afraid of the unknown. Changes bring a lot of uncertainties, which creates resistance and opposition,” says Dejan Madjoski. “In this phase the prime task would be to win people over, to reduce stress and inspire them to get involved in creating the change.”
Once the objectives and scope of the project has been outlined, the stakeholders should be identified and specific tasks assigned. Responsibilities will vary according to the organization, the scope of the change, and the specific activities that it will involve. These activities will typically cover three phases – Preparing for Change, Managing the Change, and Reinforcing the Change.
Let’s look at the process in detail:
Preparing for change: In preparing for a transformation, a complete assessment must be conducted to identify the scope of the project, the stakeholders who will be involved, and the activities and strategies that will be performed. There is also a need to identify and measure critical indicators of success. Project leaders ought to assess to what extent employees will be impacted by the change as well as how it will affect the structure of the organization. With this information, plans can be developed that will lessen any negative impact on the persons involved, and avoid any disruption in production.
Managing the change: A key part of managing change is soliciting buy-in from all stakeholders who will be affected, directly and indirectly. The organization must identify “change agents”, i.e. people within the organization who will be intimately involved in the process and who will be able to communicate with other stakeholders about the process. The management team must also develop a strategy for clear communication with all stakeholders, and decide on the level and frequency of communicating changes to ensure that the people impacted by the change fully understand the process.
Reinforcing the change: In reinforcing change, it is important to celebrate early successes. Individuals who play a key role in the process must be recognized, however, it is also important to emphasize and acknowledge the sacrifices made by all team members in the transformation process. At the end of the change management process is the evaluation phase, when successes and failures are assessed and possible improvements to the process are discussed.
“For changes to be of any true value, they’ve got to be lasting and consistent.” – Tony Robbins
Mistakes to avoid
One of the most important aspects of successful change management is effective communication. In fact, open two-way communication is the main vehicle to drive the success of the transformation process. However, it is also one of the most common mistakes made by those responsible for implementing change. If any of the stakeholders feel left out of the process, is not updated regularly or invited to give feedback, then they may start to show opposition to the change and make the project’s implementation more difficult than it ought to be.
The communication process involves being completely honest about the scope of the change and possible impact that is anticipated. Withholding information or being deliberately vague or misleading could lead to uncertainty and create opposition to the change. On the contrary, open, constant and consistent communication helps to build trust and inspire employees to embrace the change and get involved in the process. Open communication helps everyone involved understand why the change is necessary, how it will affect them, and what measures the company has put in place to lessen any negative impact. A big part of two-way communication is inviting feedback, especially from those who will be impacted. By doing so, the company is encouraging buy-in, and may even receive valuable suggestions to ensure the process goes smoothly.
Focus on People for Success
Managing change is never an easy process. With a clear vision and the right planning, the process of transformation can be a smooth experience for all stakeholders in the organization. The key is to acknowledge the people at the heart of the change, anticipate impact and make adequate plans to address it, and put strategies in place to involve everyone at throughout the process. Fear of the unknown is a natural occurrence. However, uncertainty and resistance can be avoided by facilitating open communication and following through with actions that make the process easier for all stakeholders. Communication facilitates a clear understanding of the vision behind the change, and forms the basis for the success of the change management process.