Ongoing change management is no longer optional — it’s essential
How much effort has your company invested in change management? Not only organizational change processes but the people side of change.
Change is no longer something that happens every few years. It happens all the time, particularly in large corporations. Whether it’s a departmental transition from one system to another or a significant change like overall restructuring, businesses today are fluid and continually evolving. They have to remain relevant and competitive in their industry.
Change management can be the catalyst that puts your business at the leading edge, or it can drain your cash flow. Many change projects are either underutilized, so they don’t fully deliver – or end up being abandoned. Both outcomes have massive cost implications.
According to 2017 research conducted by the global Project Management Institute on IT projects:
- 14% failed totally,
- 31% didn’t meet their goals,
- 43% exceeded their initial budgets
- and 49% were late.
Although there are many contributing factors to delays, overspending and even failure, a prime cause is the lack of sound change management processes around people transformation. No matter how much money and time is invested in equipment, planning and roll-out if your employees lack buy-in, the project is doomed.
A company is only as successful as the people who drive the processes; from those at the rock-face all the way up to the boardroom.
What is change management?
Change management is a collective term for tools and techniques that prepare, support and help individuals and teams within an organization to adapt to, and embrace change. It’s a people management process that engages with employees to get them to accept, adopt and successfully utilize changes to their day-to-day work.
People naturally prefer stability and avoid change. When a company wants to implement change, the leadership must understand that it’s not only the employee environment that is changing; it’s very personal too.
We spend an average of 21.62 days at work every month. Colleagues build bonds, and many regard their teams as a second family. Disruption to the status quo can be very stressful, especially if the change management process is poorly managed or ignored.
Whatever the planned changes are, employees need to be brought into the picture as soon as the decision is made to proceed. If, for example, a new and more advanced software system is going to replace a longstanding process, change management won’t work with a standard email to all staff. If you want to cause panic, insecurity, resistance and even dissent, send out a notification along the lines of:
“we’ve been testing a new system that will go live on the 15th. All staff will receive training on the new system within the first week of implementation.”
That kind of communication encourages rumor-mongering through the company grapevine, especially if it’s followed by continued radio-silence! Without understanding why change is happening, how it affects individuals, how it impacts work and what the measures for success or failure are, people might resign. Fear of not being able to cope with what’s coming (the unknown) could drive employees into the job market.
Conversely, proficiently handled change management can see employees eagerly embracing new systems and skills training. Not everyone will enthusiastically jump on board right away, but with support, coaching and education, even the most skeptical can become a convert.
Why the constant need for change
Pre the 2000s, organizational change management was mostly driven from within. Companies converted from manual to computerized systems; there were mergers and acquisitions; expansions or downsizing happened. Decisions were made by top management and filtered down on an instructional basis.
Employees either adapted or left.
Gradually (starting in the 1980s and 1990s) business leaders started seeing flaws and failures in the results of change efforts. They realized that the top-down, authoritarian way of filtering information wasn’t working: there was a human element that was critical to ultimate success. Change management took its first breath within the bigger picture of organizational change management, At that stage, technology played a role, but mostly as a means to improve internal systems.
The 2000s saw a revolution in how we communicate and that totally flipped the coin! People and systems could access information, conversation and data in real-time. Data could be saved to a single source and accessed by users in diverse locations at any time.
This significantly reduced retrieval and distribution times. We got used to not waiting, instant results and fast delivery. External pressures forced change in businesses, and many longstanding attitudes, processes and systems had to get tossed out if companies were going to meet customer expectations.
Digital communication also improved access to information. Boardroom decisions were now easily open to exposure as employees, shareholders and customers demanded more transparency.
Digital marketing took center stage to promote products, but it came with a caveat. Customers and employees could post online reviews that companies couldn’t control or remove. Businesses suddenly had to own up, admit mistakes and pay compensation for damages. They had to consider their brand reputation as well as their employer branding if they wanted to attract customers and top talent.
Although many factors drive internal decisions to change, it’s mostly because of advancing technology and market expectations. Successful companies thrive on agility and the ability to seamlessly implement change in the quickest and most cost-effective way possible.
To achieve that, though, you have to adopt change management as part of your company culture.
The global pandemic has just pushed change management to a whole new level
As we celebrated the start of 2020, no one could have predicted the radical agitator that was invisibly making its way across the world. Covid-19 has forever changed us socially, affected us mentally and impacted how we do business permanently.
It has shifted everything we accepted as normal, and we all find ourselves navigating the unknown; learning as we go along. Globally, businesses have been massively impacted, and most will have to implement substantial changes to how they operate. Innovation is going to be vital in dictating which companies will survive and which won’t. And changes won’t only be legislative; customers and employees will also dictate how things must happen going forward.
Implementing change won’t only take creativity; it must appeal to employees who are themselves personally wounded, sensitive and insecure. One of the biggest fears will be of being laid off and not being able to provide for themselves and their families.
Employers can utilize this insecurity for positive, though. It offers a unique opportunity not only to win over people who would typically be resistant to change but to harness group commitment to survival. Given the uncertainty of the times, however, employees must feel that they are part of the change. Honesty, transparency, fairness, regular communication and ongoing engagement are essential.
Analyze and plan, even if you don’t have much time
Where we stand currently, there’s very little lead time between deciding on change and implementation. Usually, businesses can take a few months to plan and introduce organizational changes; decisions might now have to get made within a few days. It will be easier for companies that have already created an agile environment and adopted change management as part of their company culture. Whether you have or not is irrelevant, though, because you can rapidly restructure, adapt and succeed by working systematically and by considering the following steps.
Firstly, evaluate the operational transformation that must happen:
- How much time do you have to final implementation?
- Is it permanent or transitory; e.g. is it to catch up a backlog?
- Does it affect the whole business or some departments only?
- What is the magnitude; i.e. how different is it from the way things were before?
- Can it be broken down into priorities to avoid the effects of drastic change in a short time?
Once you’re clear on how ops will be affected, the time you have and where change needs to happen, you must analyze which employees will get impacted and how. This will likely require a skills audit to establish:
- Who has the experience you need going forward, and who doesn’t?
- Can people be upskilled?
- Do you have to reduce headcount?
- Do you need to bring in temporary workers?
- Do you need skills that you’ve never needed before?
Finally, find out what legislative changes have been passed at a local, regional and national level that affect your industry. Are they short-term or permanent? Also, if you regularly engage with industry bodies, you can get a heads up on what legislation might be in the pipeline. That way, you’re prepared and not caught off guard.
Collate the data and ensure that the executive and management teams are all in agreement. Appoint an organizational change management sponsor within the executive team. Usually, it’s the company CEO, but if not, they must have the authority to act and implement systems and rules.
The sponsor must understand the impact changes will have on the workforce and show empathy and concern. They must be an excellent communicator who has time to listen, hear and address concerns, as well as explain critical decisions clearly.
9 pillars of successful change management (and how to implement them quickly)
Each organization has its own specific requirements, so plans, practices and tools must be adapted to meet your needs. These steps are what lies at the core of a change management process. They provide a framework to facilitate effective change by knowing how to manage the process, what to anticipate and how to engage employees.
As you devise your plan, stay mindful of how your workforce will react and how you can encourage buy-in and commitment. Where possible, allow room for maneuver. Also, circle back regularly to evaluate how the leadership team is coping and that your actions are cohesive.
1 - Make a formal case for change
Although it’s a leadership team effort, the sponsor must compile a clear and formal case for change in writing. It must cover all aspects of impending changes with compelling reasons why they’re necessary. This document will be shared with employees and team leaders, either in full or in part as it applies to different departments.
The formal case document must be positive in tone and persuasive, but candid and transparent. It’s the foundation of leadership and workforce alignment. Keep it a living document that’s open to adaptation where necessary.
2 - Unite the leadership team
Although you might have agreed to the process of change behind closed doors, once it’s revealed to staff they need to see a united force leading them. All leaders, including those lower down the ranks, must present a united front and speak with a single voice.
They must champion the need for change and exude confidence that it’s for the betterment of the company as well as all employees. If leaders are confident and reassuring, staff will feel more at ease and less likely to resist.
3 - Address individual people issues right away
Encourage employees to raise their concerns with team leaders. Not only listen but hear them. If you keep employees in the picture through regular communication, there will be fewer issues because they know what to expect and what’s expected of them.
Pay attention to people who are resisting change and get to the root of their problems. Mostly resistance is based on fear; give them the necessary support through additional training, coaching and peer support. Ignoring employees will lead to reactive responses and crisis management that will negatively impact morale.
Distributing and discussing the formal case for change isn’t enough. Communication around the progress and adaptations that get made must be ongoing. Ensure that teams have regular meeting with their team leader and that management meets regularly with team leaders.
Create open and psychologically safe spaces and channels for communication where people can express concerns or frustrations, knowing that they’ll get heard. Also, encourage employees to voice their experience of the changes. They’re working at the frontline and can pick up things that management might have overlooked.
5 - Involve every level
Involve every level of the organization, from the ground up, including temporary staff. Knowing what’s happening as well as being heard makes people more inclined to cooperate.
Sharing progress and involving employees in planning allows them to feel that they’re contributing. It will align them with their team leaders who in turn, are aligned with the company vision and ultimate goal.
6 - Create ownership
If employees believe that they’re contributing to the success of the company, they’ll be inclined to accept ownership for their own change as well as team success. This will only happen, though, if all leadership is leading by example and embracing every aspect of change themselves.
Transparency is essential, too, and leaders must be willing to acknowledge mistakes and rectify them. They must also give recognition to teams and individuals who are adopting the changes.
7 - Focus on company culture
All significant changes will impact company culture. These changes must be anticipated upfront before the formal case for change gets presented. Cultural changes must be explicitly laid out together with the behaviors that will support new ways of doing business.
Be willing to offer support and training where necessary and keep on reinforcing the reasons driving the need for change. In some instances, the culture could change radically. For example, a business can go from a face to face service to a digital remote service. Ease your staff through the transition.
8 - Assess progress regularly
Gather data and hold discussions with key players regularly to confirm that things are going to plan and deliver the desired results. Communicate outcomes with employees openly, honestly and fairly.
If something isn’t working, explain why and how it will get remedied. Don’t hesitate to admit to flaws and ask for feedback from employees. Change is a systematic process, not a single event.
9 - Prepare for the unexpected
If you keep your ear to the ground and know how your workforce feels you can mitigate challenges before they develop into problems. Knowing what’s happening in your industry will have the same result. Despite that, things can arise that no one could’ve anticipated. Where possible have contingency plans and reserves in place.
People management is essential to successful change
Often leadership makes the mistake of assuming that employees will understand the reasons behind organizational change and why it’s necessary. They overlook the fact that most teams are focused on their responsibilities and roles and don’t see (or maybe understand) the big picture.
People might listen, agree and get back to their job, but not change their behaviour. They either don’t understand, or they aren’t given the support they need. Consider emotions as well, particularly if the workforce has been downsized. Colleagues who were regarded as friends aren’t there anymore. It can be a loss that takes on a grieving process. Give people space while explaining why the staff cuts were necessary. Also reassure people that their job is safe. (If you have to cut staff try to do it all at once rather than sporadically. Job insecurity impacts productivity.)
Managing people through change is challenging at the best of times. Doing it in a time of social insecurity and crisis even more so! When you can win your workforce over, you’re more likely to get loyalty. To do that you have to build trust through honest communication and demonstrate that you have every employee's interest at heart.
How do you demonstrate that, though?
By supporting people through change instead of forcing it on them! Even if change is unavoidable, people will struggle. Knowing that they can believe in their leadership and that they will get guidance through difficult patches makes a huge difference.
When we’re all under extreme pressure, it can be challenging to provide employee motivation without becoming distracted. F4S is a people analytics platform focused on personal growth and development. In these tough times, it’s the ideal companion to help you understand your workforces’ underlying motivations and to help them grow by improving emotional intelligence.
The many features allow you to restructure teams, identify people who are struggling and offer them support through online coaching. Because F4S gives ownership to the employee, they can monitor their progress. You can also create a culture map and benchmarks to manage progress and adapt to optimize progress.
F4S will also help management teams keep it together during these times by allowing them to identify blind spots in their thinking and giving them tools to improve. Understanding each other’s strengths and blind spots in real-time can help leaders avoid internal conflict and allow them to assign responsibilities that complement each person’s strengths.