Managing change within an organization is a complex task. It requires leadership at multiple levels in order to manage the change processes and the people making the changes. It means staying several moves ahead of others to make sure that objectives remain in sight.
Human beings are innately resistant to change. It is a stressor in any facet of life. Managing change means managing the expectations of the employees who must go through the process. This means having a keen understanding of the people, their motivations, their strengths and weaknesses, and their ability to manage uncertainty. For executives who master these insights, the change process is bound to go better.
Many leaders fall into a trap when it comes to a change in business strategy. They believe that speed is essential. Like quickly pulling off a bandage, change is best when it’s done fast. Like the shock of pulling hairs off with a Band-Aid, the trauma of change in the business world will be short-lived and soon forgotten.
But business change is not like Band-Aids. Without taking the time to prepare a workplace and its people for the change, the road will be far bumpier.
One of the key reasons for this preparation phase is to give people time to understand why change is occurring, time to process the new reality, and to develop an acceptance of it. Without this processing time, it will be difficult for leaders to have vocal allies at different ranks. In fact, leaders may find themselves carrying the flag by themselves.
In a Forbes article on change management, contributor Mark Murphy wrote, “Until you have confirmation that 70% of your culture is prepared for the change management effort, you are not ready to start taking action.”
Prepping for change
A McKinsey & Co. report pinpoints for crucial aspects of successful change management. Each of these conditions must be in place before change can truly happen effectively.
1. Establishing a belief system
Employees need to understand, and believe in their role within an organization. Further, they need to understand that their actions play a role in the ongoing success of the organization.
2. Reinforcing consistent behavior
In order to change, there must be consistent application of core corporate principles and behaviors. Reporting lines, internal processes, assessments, compensation and other rewards must be clearly understood and applied fairly to gain the buy-in for future change.
3. Teaching the new skills
A company can have the best intentions when it says it will now be more customer-centric and tell its employees to do so. But if the company has not operated in that mode or asked its employees to act in such a way, then the change will be difficult to accept and implement. New skills must be taught, learned, and practiced in order for employees to gain confidence in a new paradigm.
4. Respected leaders modeling new behaviors
Seeing new modes of work in action matters. When those respected in the organization exhibit and demonstrate the needed behaviors, and coach other employees, credibility jumps.
The process of change needs to be focused, deliberate, and steady. Keeping employees informed about what is needed for success will result in greater buy-in and ultimately, in a better outcome.