In these fast moving and turbulent times, our clients are continuing to face the need to change – whether forced upon them by external factors or by their own proactive need. Mergers, acquisitions, reorganisations, all create requirements for innovation and change. Today we address how to manage the process, to effectively deal with the fear and anxiety that people will experience when moving through change. Whether at executive, managerial or employee level, there are certain territories that simply have to ‘have covered’ when thinking about the people dimension of change projects.
1. Know where you are headed, how and why
Before starting organisational change, leaders must ask themselves the following questions:
- What do we want to achieve with this change – what are the outcomes we are seeking?
- Why and how will we know that the change has been achieved?
- Who will be affected by this change, and how will they react to it?
- How much of this change can we achieve ourselves, and what parts of the change do we need help with?
- Develop a check list and plan for the change programme and know where you are at any given time against the plan.
2. Understand how people respond to change
How do individuals respond to change? There has been significant research done on how individuals respond to change – and despite the development of the rational mind in business, it is often the emotional impact that is consistently underestimated and avoided. The original models introduced that explained this area are based upon research initially carried out into bereavement. Understanding that certain specific gut emotional reactions will occur on the announcement of changes, let alone ongoing resistance to continuous change, is a significant step in managing those reactions effectively.
3. Summon a strong mandate and build the case for change
Leaders need to realize that an initial explanation for the reasons for change will not be enough to carry people through the challenging and difficult experiences that they, their colleagues, team and the organization will go through. Leaders need to continuously remind everyone, drive and focus upon the important reasons why changes must be made, and explain carefully the reasons for the need for change to those who will be affected by it.
4. Stakeholder management
The ramifications of change are widespread and often key stakeholders may not be communicated to or engaged in the process. Leaders need to ask ‘who might the stakeholders be?’ Then, create tools and processes to ensure that those key stakeholder groups are collaboratively engaged, with key personnel to track and manage stakeholders throughout the lifecycle of the change initiative project.
The value of communication may appear to be self-evident, but it is still astounding to us when working with some organizations how little staff feels they are communicated with. This leads to another complaint from staff, who say that communication is one way – with leaders talking down to them – and rarely soliciting their views, concerns, anxieties or constructive help. Key leaders must ensure that adequate information is effectively disseminated to the relevant people in the organization, whilst others must take responsibility to gather the great ideas and help that can be provided by employees.
Creating engagement and involvement by all employees is the Holy Grail for change managers. Often difficult, confrontational and challenging, few leaders have the stomach to create processes for proactive involvement of their employees, managers and other interested parties in the change process. They expect fear and resistance and mostly they get it! By taking an attitude that they know best what needs to change, they cut out the very help that could come from employees who would, if they were genuinely involved, give it. Buy-in comes from involvement. Change the mindset, change the expectations, change the behaviours and you will get very different outcomes.
Effective leadership in a well managed change programme can have powerful impacts on the energy, confidence and engagement of the organization to effectively implement the necessary changes. If leaders have previously performed well, the speed of trust can be engaged to deliver excellent results quickly. Poor leadership in this area causes loss of confidence, resistance and complaints; to the extent that very little changes and the health of the organization and its performance weaken.
Effective change often calls for greater skill in the organization’s people, not just technically, but behaviorally to cope with the new processes and systems, that should allow them to perform their job better. Innovation and change are vital tools that engage the workforce in new learning and increased capability. If they can see that the change brings improvements to their skill-set and allows them to grow personally, people will find it easier to commit new energy and loyalty to their role, their team and the company.