Since the mid-2000s, organizational change management has become a permanent feature of the business landscape. As vast new innovative technologies come up, once-powerful business models are on the chopping block un-able to cope or keep up with new demands of customers. As industry disrupting solutions are created and developed, leadership teams realize that they can gain a competitive advantage by implementing these as part of their business processes. Typically, enterprise implementation projects do not have formal change management roles defined as part of the project team. To meet this challenge, companies have become more sophisticated in the best practices for change management and are looking for project solutions that include change management as a key component of success. Today, companies are far more sensitive to and more aware of how tasks are accomplished through the companies’ culture because leveraging “the way things currently get done” breeds success in companywide enterprise projects.
Yet, the success rate of major process change initiatives is less than half. The costs are high when change efforts go wrong—not only financially but in confusion, lost opportunity, wasted resources, and diminished morale. When employees have endured real upheaval and put in significant extra hours for an initiative that was announced with great excitement, only to see it simply fizzle out, bitterness, distrust, & failure sets in.
The following list of 5 best practices for change management can help executives navigate the process of transformation and project implementations in a systematic way.
1. Start at the top. Although it’s important to engage employees at every level early on, all successful change management initiatives start at the top, with a committed and well-aligned group of executives strongly supported by the CEO. This alignment can’t be taken for granted. Rather, work must be done in advance to ensure that everyone agrees about the case for the change and the reason for implementing it.
2. Involve every player. Strategic planners often fail to consider the extent to which midlevel and frontline people can make or break a change initiative. The path of rolling out change is immeasurably smoother if these people are approached early for input on issues that will affect their jobs. Frontline people tend to be rich in knowledge about where potential glitches may occur, what technical and logistical issues need to be addressed, and how customers may react to changes. In addition, their full-hearted 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. Although it may take longer in the beginning, ensuring broad involvement and alignment saves untold headaches later.
3. Make the rational & emotional case together. Leaders will often make the case for major change on the sole basis of strategic business objectives such as “we will enter new markets” or “we will grow 20 percent a year for the next three years”. Such objectives sound good, but they rarely reach people emotionally in a way that ensures genuine commitment to the cause. Human beings respond to calls to action that engage their hearts as well as their minds, making them feel as if they’re part of something consequential.
4. Learn to educate on new processes. Many change initiatives seem to assume that people will begin to shift their behaviors once formal elements like directives have been put in place. They believe things like “People who work together on cross-functional teams will start collaborating because the lines on the chart show they are supposed to do so.” Or that “Managers will become clear communicators because they have a mandate to deliver a message about the new strategy.” The truth is people need practice at doing something new to become proficient.
5. Engage, engage, engage. Leaders often make the mistake of imagining that if they convey a strong message of change at the start of an initiative, people will understand what to do. Nothing could be further from the truth. Powerful and sustained change requires constant communication, not only throughout the rollout but after the major elements of the plan are in place. The more kinds of communication employed, the more effective they are.
These 5 best practices offer a template for leaders committed to achieving sustained transformational change during an implementation. The work required can be arduous and exacting. But your company will reap the benefits for a long time when your change management is successful.
Contact one of our business transformation experts to start the conversation about your change management.
Author: Howard Hohnadel, Managing Director of Business Transformation
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