29 Nov 2019
Change Management deals with the transition or transformation of an organisation’s goals, processes or technologies. When change is introduced in an organisation processes, systems, organization structure and job roles are immensely impacted. All the tools and technologies that are actually intended to ‘improve’ everything ultimately prescribe major adjustments.
Change management supports moving an organization from a current state (how things are done today), through a transition state to a desired future state (the new processes, systems, organization structures or job roles defined by the change). It focuses on the people impacted by the change.
This presents most executives with an unfamiliar challenge. In major transformations of large enterprises, they and their advisors conventionally focus their attention on devising the best strategic and tactical plans. But to succeed, they also must have an intimate understanding of the more human side of change management — the alignment of the company’s culture, values, people, and behaviors — to encourage the desired results. Plans themselves do not capture value; value is realized only through the sustained, collective actions of the thousands — maybe even tens of thousands — of employees who are responsible for designing, executing, and living with the changed environment.
Long-term structural transformation has four characteristics: scale (the change affects all or most of the organization), magnitude (it involves significant alterations of the status quo), duration (it lasts for months, if not years), and strategic importance. Yet companies will reap the rewards only when change occurs at the level of the individual employee.
Many senior executives know this and worry about it. When asked what keeps them up at night, CEO's involved in transformation often say they are concerned about how the employees will react, how they can get their team to work together, and how they will be able to lead their people. They also worry about retaining their company’s unique values and sense of identity and about creating a culture of commitment and performance. Leadership teams that fail to plan for the human side of change often find themselves wondering why their best-laid plans have gone awry.
No single methodology fits every company, but there is a set of practices, tools, and techniques that can be adapted to a variety of situations. What follows is a “Top 7” list of guiding principles for change management. Using these as a systematic, comprehensive framework, executives can understand what to expect, how to manage their own personal change, and how to engage the entire organization in the process.
Grapple with the human-side: Any major alteration will create human issues. New leaders will be asked to step up, jobs will be altered , new skills and capabilities will be asked to be developed, and employees will be uncertain and resistant. Dealing with these issues on a responsive, per situation basis puts speed, morale, and results at peril. A validated stratagem for managing change — beginning with the leadership team and then engaging key stakeholders and leaders — should be developed early, and adapted often as change moves through the organization.
This demands as much data collection and analysis, planning, and implementation discipline as does a redesign of strategy, systems, or processes. It should be based on a realistic assessment of the organization’s history, readiness, and capacity to change.
Start at the high up:Because change is inherently unsettling for people at all levels of an organization, when it is on the horizon, all eyes will turn to the CEO and the leadership team for strength, support, and direction.
The leaders themselves must embrace the new approaches first, both to challenge and to motivate the rest of the institution. They must speak with one voice and model the desired behaviors. The executive team also needs to understand that, although its public face may be one of unity, it, too, is composed of individuals who are going through stressful times and need to be supported.
Executive teams that work well together are best positioned for success. They are aligned and committed to the direction of change, understand the culture and behaviors the changes intend to introduce, and can model those changes themselves.
Include every level: Strategic planners often fail to take into account the scope to which mid-level and frontline people can make or break a change initiative. The path of rolling out change is a lot easier if these people are tapped early for input on issues that will affect their jobs. Frontline people tend to be rich reservoirs of knowledge about where something could go wrong, what technical and logistical issues need to be addressed, and how customers may react to changes. In addition, their engagement can smooth the way for complex change initiatives, whereas their resistance will make implementation an ongoing challenge.
Planners who resist early engagement at multiple levels of the hierarchy often do so because they believe that the process will be more efficient if fewer people are involved in planning. But although it may take longer in the beginning, ensuring broad involvement saves untold headaches later on.
IBM recognized the need for such an approach in 2003, when rolling out a new initiative on culture. The leadership team had met intensively to develop clear definitions of the cultural traits the organization would require going forward. They then declared a “values jam,” a website set up for a 72-hour period, where anyone in the company could post comments, responses, suggestions, and concerns. Leaders then made key changes based on the feedback they received and communicated clearly how the input they’d received was being incorporated.
Engage and Enlist: Leaders often make the mistake of imagining that if they convey a brawny message of change at the start of an initiative, people will understand what to do. That couldn’t be more incorrect. Powerful and sustained change requires constant communication, not only throughout the process but after the major elements of the plan are in place. The more kinds of communication employed, the more effective they are.
A global publisher undertook a major initiative to become more digital, putting in place far-reaching structural changes. The top leaders decided to engage people throughout the company at a variety of levels. First, they convened a series of town halls where large groups were given the news and invited to ask how the company-wide shift would affect them. Executives followed this with function-wide meetings where people could learn, for example, about the prospective impact on finance or human resources.
Finally, an internal trade fair was planned to showcase what various teams were doing to make the company more digital. This multifaceted and ongoing communications effort kept the message alive, giving every employee an understanding of the change and a stake in the outcome.
Estimate and Acclimate: Leaders are so eager to claim triumph that they don’t take the time to find out what’s working and what’s not, and to adjust their next steps accordingly. This failure to follow through results in inconsistency and deprives the organization of needed information about how to support the process of change throughout its life cycle.
A global consumer products company had made a far-ranging commitment to lowering costs. Leaders designed a robust change template and implemented it widely; the metrics indicated that they were succeeding. But the company wanted to be sure that people understood the ongoing nature of this commitment. So they rolled out a series of pulse surveys and convened focus groups to describe the case for change and the new behaviors required of everyone.
The first round of surveys found that only 60 percent of respondents understood the message. The company then called on informal leaders to play a bigger role in evangelizing for the initiative. They continued to run these surveys and focus groups to measure the result until a more sizable majority of the staff had shown they were prepared.
These suggestions offer a powerful template for leaders committed to effecting sustained cathartic change. The work required can be exhausting and exacting. But the need for major change initiatives is only going to become more urgent. It holds us all accountable to get it right.