Like it or not, the old adage that “change is the only constant” is true. The only variable is the impact of the change, and the way change was introduced. Modern technology allows information and ideas to flow much faster than before and consequently, change occurs at a much more rapid pace than when we had to depend on the mailman to bring our letters. It also means that people have much less time to adjust and prepare themselves for change, making sucessful change management more challenging than ever before. Add to this the diversity of the workforce and the different reactions to change and one begins to understand why “change management” is now a key competency required for management and leadership positions.
Change management in itself is not a new concept. How people feel about the change really depends on how they are impacted by the change, and how prepared they are to deal with the change. Change management is the process by which organizations introduce change that minimizes impact and increases preparedness. Successful change management allows the organization to reduce downtimes associated with re-tooling, re-learning, and adjustment, and also allows the company to fully realize the benefits of the change as quickly as possible.
We recognize two types of change – systems change, and people change. The former refers to changes in organizational hardware – infrastructure, processes and procedures, systems, and structure. The latter refers to changes in organizational software – roles and responsibilities, job scopes, work routines, reporting lines, and team structures. The two types of changes are almost always interlinked – changes in the one will impact the other. While there are many processes in place for managing and implemeting systems change, there are very few resources on how to deal effectively with people change.
In light of the above, we have compiled a checklist for effectively leading and managing change based on our experience and engagements with numerous clients.
#1: Be clear about the objectives of change. Notwithstanding the fact that change is a constant, it is important to understand the desired outcome of change before rushing headlong into implementing the change. What is it we want to achieve? Why do we want to achieve this objective? While this may sound elementary, it is the step that many managers ignore in their excitement to do something differently. The articulation of clear objectives determines the types of change that occur, and can serve as a focal point for project leaders.
#2: Be specific about the type of change. It is not enough to talk about change in broad strokes. People understand and interpret messages differently and broad statements can lead to confusion. Vague ideas of change provide fuel for the rumour mill and can undermine the best laid plans. In specifying the change, managers are encouraged to provide as much details as possible – exactly which system or process will be changed, specifics about what changes can be expected, who will be affected and how.
#3: Engage stakeholders early. Effective change leaders know that stakeholders can make or break any project. It is recommended that all relevant stakeholders be involved as early as possible. While this may have the effect of delaying the implementation of the change – due to disagreements about the change, the resources required, or from a desire to maintain the status quo – experience has shown that early engagement leads to much higher levels of project buy-in and ownership, increasing the chances of successful change implementation. An added advantage of early engagement is that it provides the opportunity to gauge the support for the change initiative at a very early stage, and allows management to make adjustments where necessary.
#4: Communicate. People are generally resistant to change, preferring to remain in their comfort zones. An important part of change management involves galvanizing people to want to change, by explaining why the change is required, the benefits of change, and the cost of inaction. All stakeholders need to be updated about the progress of the change, and if there have been any revisions to the scope of work. Timely communications will allow affected staff to prepare themselves for the change through training and adjustments of mindsets. In communicating, many organizations make the mistake of adopting the “big bang” approach – kickng off the initiative with lots of fanfare and publicity. Unfortunately, this level of communications is not sustainable, and communications soon dwindle as managers get distracted by other initiatives – leaving stakeholders in the dark about the progress of the change initiative. Rather than the big bang approach, a more sustained communications is proposed whereby updates are provided at key milestones. Where feasible, local change champions and change agents at the division/department/team level should be appointed to ensure continuous communication and engagement.
#5: Enable. It is essential that all affected staff are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to cope with the change and work within the new parameters. Training enhances staff preparedness and allows them to be more accepting of the changes.
#6: Follow-up. Follow-up is key to effecive change management. It is not enough to declare an effective date and expect that everything will go as planned. Successful change managers follow-up closely on the change initiatives – to see if the change objectives are being realized, to identify any obstacles, to seek and address feedback and concerns from stakeholders.
Implementing and maaging change is never an easy task – much depends on how people change is managed. At the end of the day, successul change management can best be defined as a situation where those impacted feel that there wasn’t any change at all.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you require any further information.