Change is inevitable in any fast-paced business environment, no matter the industry or size of the company. It can also take place in many forms: mergers and acquisitions, global or regional expansion, downsizing or outsourcing of the workforce, branch closures, the introduction of new products, etc.
Then again, humans are known to be strong resistors of change. Most of us want to stick to the status quo. We want to do things the best way we know-how, and using the tools, knowledge, and resources we’re used to using. As a business leader, therefore, you have to introduce change systematically using workable corporate strategies, technologies, structures, and procedures. That’s where change management comes into play.
Change management involves more than just installing new processes, introducing new products, formulating new marketing strategies, hiring new talent, and adopting new business approaches. It also means helping existing employees adapt to change while minimizing negative outcomes. Note that organizational changes may have far-reaching, sometimes overwhelming, impacts on the workforce and may carry with them legal implications.
This article highlights 5 steps for managing major organizational changes and reinforcing employee commitment.
1. Explain to employees that the “status quo” is no longer acceptable
Because it’s what they’re used to, team members tend to want to protect the status quo. It’s your duty as a leader to create a sense of urgency in ditching the current state of affairs in favor of better, more streamlined practices. Explain the new competitive realities that the organization will benefit from by implementing the necessary changes — and the potential crises that could stem from being resistant to change. Help them visualize market changes as they happen so they can appreciate the urgency of organizational change. This change could come in many forms: a digital transformation, a change in demographic and social trends, new government regulations, etc. Once the workers understand that the status quo is no longer acceptable, implementing the changes becomes easier and more effective.
2. Introduce change in stages
Rushing to implement changes is risky because, as we mentioned, change can be overwhelming. That’s why you should introduce change in small, manageable phases. Here are the 4 steps that we recommend:
- Definition phase: Define the scope of the change, its goals and objectives going forward, its probable impacts, and any changes to timelines.
- Planning phase: Decide where you’ll get the needed capital for the change, which employees will be adversely affected by it, who will be instrumental in bringing it about, which stakeholders you should keep and which ones you should break ties with, how to introduce the change to the target audience, etc. Use this knowledge to design a detailed implementation strategy.
- Implementation phase: Use this implementation strategy to engage in conversation with leaders and associates about instituting the change. At this point, every stakeholder should be on board with the upcoming change, and everyone should be feeling positive about it.
- Sustaining phase: After effecting the changes, talk with those in charge of implementing them, as well as other employees and stakeholders, to ensure the changes become ingrained. If a strategy isn’t working after implementation, change it before everything comes crumbling down.
3. Create a team that will help drive the change
In order to effectively institute the 4 phases above, it will take a team of people with enough authority, will, and commitment to lead the way. Put together a team that includes at least one top executive, an expert (e.g. an IT expert if the change is tech-related), someone with high credibility and a strong leadership record, and someone with proven management skills. Organize team-building sessions for the newly-formed team in order to build cohesion and trust from the start.
4. Make your vision and mission clear to all employees
The new team should craft a clear vision for the future. The eventual vision should be cosigned by all stakeholders, visualizable by even the slowest learners, economically feasible, and flexible enough to adapt to possible changes in the future. The vision should then be communicated and laid out to all employees. If the team needs to share big files, store them in the cloud and synchronize or share them through the staff members’ devices. Consider sharing them as zip files because they’re easily-shareable and can’t be hijacked by data thieves.
5. Celebrate small wins in every phase of the change
Successful changes take time and patience. If you wait until everything falls into place before appreciating your team’s effort, you run the risk of discouraging employees at all levels of the organization. It’s wise to celebrate all visible improvements no matter how small. Reward short-term wins because that will encourage employees to keep pushing.
In conclusion, don’t stop pushing for change until everyone is on board and the new normal is embedded in your organization’s culture. It takes time, but a little persistence can go a long way.