Change is difficult. However, top performing individuals and organizations are those who know how to manage change. This post provides a tactical perspective on change management that is rooted in years of practical experience.
Uncover the Objective Behind The Change
Before deciding what to change, determine why you want to change. Identifying the true motives behind a change will help you evaluate potential gains, costs, trade-offs, and risks associated with making the change. For example, if your objective is to reduce operating costs, a belief that parts of your organization are inefficient may lead to the conclusion that a reduction in staff could be absorbed, resulting in lower costs. However, rather than achieving lower costs, poor performance may result instead, causing unanticipated cost overruns and negating the initial savings achieved by reducing the headcount in the first place. A better path forward in this example might be optimizing efficiency and reducing work load before reducing headcount. Once you understand the motives and objectives for the change, you should pursue relevant expertise and perspective.
Find Out Where The Bodies Are Buried
It is likely that someone has faced similar circumstances before and has valuable lessons they can share with you. The more critical the change, the more important external perspectives become. If possible, consider developing a test case for the change to collect information, refine your plan, and to improve implementation. Even something as simple as a “tabletop exercise” can improve planning and risk mitigation. Identify and leverage employees with experience in change management. If your organization lacks experienced change managers, look for outside help.
Try to find experts who understand your industry, culture, and assets. However, there may also be useful perspectives you can gain from other industries or disciplines, so don’t be afraid to look the outside if an opportunity presents itself. Expertise in financial and academic approaches to change management is also critical. Now that you know what you want, and have collected some relevant lessons learned from experts, you are ready to start building a plan.
Align the Stakeholders Around The Plan
Your plan should be developed with the understanding that adjustments will likely be required along the way. As Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” Be sure to include work steps, assessment points, and feedback milestones as appropriate. Make the desired outcomes a critical part of the plan and its communication. Effective communication requires that you identify key stakeholders and seek their “buy in.”
“Buy-in” from potentially affected organizations (stakeholders) during the planning stage is crucial. Obtaining buy-in often requires intense communication between the executive and planning levels of the company. Input from leaders, professional staff, workers and their unions adds value and builds trust. When all the stakeholders understand the reasons and motivations for change, they are more likely to support the plans for change. With the stakeholders aligned around your plan, you are now ready to execute the change.
Execute the Plan With Clear & Frequent Communication
Communication and execution are one in the same. The Project Management Institute states that approximately 90% of a Project Manager’s time should be spent communicating with stakeholders. It is nearly impossible to over-communicate. Invest the time and resources to clarify the purpose and desired outcomes of the change to all the stakeholders. A lack of proper communication is one of the most common reasons why initiatives fail to meet objectives. Share the timeline, schedule, and responsibilities frequently via multiple channels.
A written set of directions without face-to-face interaction and oversight is almost never enough. Remember that many of your stakeholders are busy with other responsibilities. Seek frequent feedback from leadership and staff to ensure that the intended change is well understood. Too often, new initiatives die on the vine when management does not intensely demonstrate their interest and support. To build trust, stick to the schedule and meet milestones. Another way to build trust is to seek feedback from stakeholders and use that feedback to improve execution.
Measure To Improve
In the words of Peter Drucker, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Build interim and final effectiveness reviews into the plan. Establish independent oversight that provides feedback to management and leadership. These effectiveness reviews are based on the desired outcomes and behaviors established during the planning process. Ensure key performance metrics are available to measure impacts. Did the action accomplish its intended purpose? Be willing and disciplined enough to make changes as necessary based on feedback. Communicate adjustments as necessary to the affected staff. You should also remember to communicate successes and quick wins to help spread the change throughout the organization.
Spread the Change
People like to be associated with a “winner.” When they see that your project is affecting positive change, they will buy in and help spread the change throughout the organization. Establish and reinforce new language that demonstrates the change. Consider establishing a reward system that reinforces the new behaviors. When the change has been deemed successful and effective, continue monitoring and promoting the change until it becomes part of the natural way of doing business. Leaders should recognize their role in maintaining success and periodically review to make sure it is remaining effective and current with industry standards. Periodic self-assessment and external benchmarking are required to prevent performance decline. Finally, remember to enjoy the fruits of your success as a “change agent.” Successfully promoting change within an organization is difficult, but can also be very satisfying.