What happens when your much-anticipated business transformation initiative starts to go downhill?
Employees become fatigued, cynical, and lose morale. Unaddressed systemic challenges and process failures make change unsustainable over time. In short, chaos ensues. How do you overcome these challenges of managing change and navigating your way out of chaos?
We’ll discuss the principles of change management including the thought process surrounding change management; the emotional aspects of managing change, the importance of engaging people throughout the process of organizational change, behavior modification, and modeling as an essential ingredient in effecting change. Finally, we will discuss the importance of organizational alignment.
1. Understand what Change Management Is and Is Not
Achieving and sustaining change requires a lot of resources. You’ll invest time, money, and effort with the people in your organization even when you are trying to ask their opinion on how to expand your business, for instance. If you don’t have a clear idea of how to manage organizational change, you’ll approach a milestone time only to find that you’ve wasted numerous human and financial resources.
The aim of change management is to help people adapt to and adopt changes. It focuses on people helping people navigate through the processes necessary for change, including:
- Organizational development.
- Process improvement.
- Project management.
- Strategic planning.
One of the most important principles of change management is to understand that it is not task-centered. It’s not busy work like sending memos and emails, conducting training seminars, filling out checklists or analyzing and reporting metrics from a dashboard. Change management is a process of empowerment. It is a systematic approach to guiding a company from the status quo to the desired state.
2. Create and Support a Culture of Change
You should start with the fact that people usually don’t like change. No matter how good the new chapter you planned is, there are high chances that employees won’t be on board with it. It’s difficult to implement change when there’s resistance among the ranks. Effective leaders know that overcoming cultural resistance is not an easy task. Making a few symbolic changes can do wonders for transforming your company culture.
Here’s an image of a symbolic change. A company has a culture of separating employees by class. There is reserved parking for executives along with separate break rooms and restrooms for managers and front-line employees. This supports a culture of non-interaction among top, middle, and lower level employees.
Initiatives that require transparent communications between employees may be met by resistance from people across all levels. A great start to breaking down the barrier between employees is to combine the break rooms. Informal interactions during downtime can break the ice and make formal interactions more natural for everyone involved.
Make an emotional case for change, not just a rational one. Don’t rely only on stated goals and metrics to communicate the importance of change in your organization. Leverage the culture by implementing changes that communicate on a human and emotional level. You’ll resonate with more people when you make change a personal and symbolic exercise.
3. Take Time to Engage Employees at Each Step of Change
Every change initiative comes with an expiration date. Deadlines are among a change manager’s biggest challenges. One time-saving method that leaders use is to delegate communication to a few employees. A department manager may have a finger on the pulse of a few supervisors.
However, who is taking the pulse of all the front-line employees who report to those supervisors? Real problems occur when those unheard employees don’t buy into change initiatives. Maybe they don’t believe their voice is heard and that their input is not of real value to the company.
You don’t need to have a 30-minute meeting with everyone. On the other hand, seek out and engage informal leaders at every level: trusted experts, motivators, and cultural ambassadors. Trusted experts know what their coworkers are thinking and feeling and can really gauge the collective voice. These are the people you need to hear from.
Motivators and culture ambassadors are the people you want to talk to. They’ll take the message of change to masses as change marketers, pride builders, and cheerleaders. In this situation, it pays greater dividends to slow the process down and take time to hear from mid-level and front-line people early on.
4. Be a Model in Times of Change
There is no change if nothing has changed. If your people don’t see and feel a change from you, then they won’t feel the motivation to change themselves.
Think about how you want change to look. That is, how you want your company to operate as the result of the change. As a leader, you need to act like change has already taken place. Leading by example is one of the core principles of change management.
Adopt and model specific new behaviors, as if they always existed. Operate as if things always worked the way you want them to. Rather than issuing mandates and directives and offering incentives to mid-level and front-line employees, start at upper levels and model the desired behavior downward.
It’s also important to model flexibility. This means to let people see you adjust and adapt to the challenges of change management. Change is personal. Processes and systems cannot change until the people who control the systems and implement the procedures do.
5. Seek Unity, Alignment, and Ownership at Top Level
How difficult is it to implement a full-scale change initiative when your top managers and C-level executives don’t buy into the program? This is a challenge when executives have been encouraged to operate their departments like mini-businesses. They unconsciously display a Lone Ranger attitude. Often times, they don’t understand the principles of change management. They may feel entitled to pick and choose what changes they want in their division. They may even feel entitled to reject certain changes.
Make a strong and compelling case for change at the top. You need to make sure that your top people agree with the reasons that support the imperative of a new chapter. They also need to understand that their impact on organizational change is appreciated.
Redesign formal and informal incentives that support executive level change. This includes mentoring for professional development and providing real incentives for demonstrating ethics. When change takes hold at the highest levels, it permeates the air and spreads throughout the entire organization quickly.
Conclusion: Paying the Cost of Progress
Change is not progress. Rather, change is the currency that pays the price of making progress. You can lead your company to a new era by applying these basic principles of change management presented here. You’ll be able to eliminate the fatigue that comes along with implementing change and create an environment that supports lasting beneficial transitions.