Change is inevitable in life. Along with death and taxes, it’s one of the concepts you simply can’t avoid. In the business environment, change is driven by market forces, the economy, politics, and a range of other factors, and employees don’t always take kindly to it.
We’ve all come across workers who no longer give their best when they’re faced with changes they find difficult to accept, and as a business owner you can’t afford to keep employees who become “dead wood.”
Save yourself and your workers from reaching this point by deploying an effective change management strategy in your company.
Times When You Need Change Management
[quotes]Anytime there is change, our brain is generally hard wired to reject it.[/quotes] Evolution has selected those who were more cautious, didn’t go against the hard-learned survival lessons of their tribe or clan and were not impulse driven to gulp down that newly discovered red berry “thingy.”
We can’t help it but we also have a brain that’s not totally hard wired so you can change how change is received and processed.
There are certain times in a company’s existence when you really need a formal change management strategy. I’ve identified two circumstances that occur regularly in business, where having a strategy of this nature would make sense.
1. When something new is taking place
The “something new” could be as basic as a new policy or procedure, a shift to new systems and software, or as big as a change of ownership. Any situation in which your employees might feel unsettled or disenfranchised in any way calls for a change management program.
Ask yourself the following questions to determine whether you need to carry out a change management campaign:
- Do all staff clearly understand what’s happening and why change is necessary? Is this knowledge a result of clear management communications, or are they being exposed to gossip and conjecture?
- Are any employees at risk of losing their jobs, or might they think they could be at risk as a result of these changes? Also, loss of status can be as significant. The “go to expert” on buggy whip winding likely wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of the company converting over to make hand cranks for Model T’s; their high status would be no better than the average worker.
- Have the positives and negatives been explained in detail to all staff?
- Do workers know who to turn to with any questions they might have?
2. When a problem needs resolution
[quotesright]Tipoffs there are problems in need of resolution include a decline in profitability and human resources challenges[/quotesright]
This is closely aligned to #1 above, but it’s important to distinguish between the problem or the problems change will bring, so your change management is correctly focused.
[quotes]One of the best real-life examples of successful change management was the across-the-board Y2K experience.[/quotes] For those who remember, fear spread that all computerized systems would be compromised when the clock turned over from 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 1999 to 00:00 a.m. on January 1, 2000.
Banks and insurance companies fretted about losing 100 years’ worth of interest, airplane manufacturers thought flights might fall out of the sky when systems froze, and a classic doomsday scenario was painted.
The consequences of inertia were potentially dramatic, and businesses globally began implementing changes that would avoid disaster. Everyone understood and accepted the need to make changes.
Companies spent more than $300 billion on change management projects, and the disasters were avoided. Not only that, the business world realized the value of change management and what could be realistically achieved with it.
Identify the Changes You Want
There’s a very real risk of falling victim to Law of Unintended Consequences in business, and change management is no exception. When companies migrate to new technologies, for instance, it’s possible some of the changes that occur are not the ones leadership wants to see.
By identifying the changes you do want, it’s possible to drive them to fruition by educating your staff on what they are and how things will work in the future. To avoid changes you don’t want, however, you’ll need to identify what those are and put in place some mechanisms to guard them against happening.
[quotesright]Think through how changes could be seen by the people who will be doing the implementing and those who will be affected by it. [/quotesright]
Developing a Change Management Strategy
To develop a comprehensive change management strategy that your company can turn to whenever the need arises, you should appoint a capable person or team to manage the process. The person or team will need to:
- Clearly define the scope and boundaries of the change required, and how it aligns with your business goals.
- Identify who will be impacted by the change, and to what degree.
- Develop a strategy to communicate every facet of the change with the people affected by each.
- Identify the milestones between the start and end points, and develop plans for achieving each milestone.
- Set objectives (with timelines for achievement) that align with the milestones.
- Create a formal framework for the implementation of change management processes.
Several existing change management models are available for businesses to follow, including the ADKAR model, Kotter’s well-known 8 Step change model and other models. Alternatively, you can work with a consultant to devise a strategy tailored for your unique situation.
Implementing the Strategy
The most well-planned strategy is only as effective as its implementation, so there’s little point in coming up with a brilliant plan and then executing it haphazardly. For the best results, use project management principles to carry out your operation.
Develop your communications plan well ahead of time, so you can ensure synergy between them. Appoint change champions to work the field of their peers. Compensate those laid off and provide them with options for other work, if possible.
[quotesright]Offer effective training to employees impacted by the change, so they feel empowered and ready to tackle the new venture. [/quotesright] Make sure they have support – and they know who to turn to – if they are feeling overwhelmed or just have questions that need answering.
Measuring the Results
Business owners always hope they won’t have to go through these kinds of change more than once in a company’s life, but that’s unrealistic. Growing concerns get caught up in changes on a regular basis, and ignoring the possibility only results in being unprepared to face the challenge.
By measuring the results and recording the benefits and disadvantages of your change management campaigns, you will be better equipped in the future to handle similar situations when they arise. And meeting the challenge head on enables you to make the leap to a new company philosophy without becoming bogged down fighting fires.
[quotesright]Managing change in your business doesn’t need to be a nightmare. [/quotesright] What it does need to be is a comprehensive, logical approach, with a dedicated person or team focused on implementing your strategy.