Leadership Challenge: Change management
Let’s face it - change is hard. Whether at work or in life, most people resist, rather than embrace, change. In fact, studies show that in most organizations two out of three transformation initiatives fail. Those aren’t good odds. However, organizations must change in order to experience continual growth and success. Which means - every company must embrace change management.
How do employees react to change?
If you need to lead your company through an upcoming change, first be aware that in order for something new to begin, something else has to end. The ending is a transition and people generally deal with transitions in one of two ways - actively or passively. Those who deal with change actively might actually invite change or work to bring it about. They acknowledge their part in the change, and they work at dealing with the impact of the change. Passive changers often accept no blame for their role in the change or take on a victim mentality. In addition, they might refuse to recognize the impact of the change or accept the change at all. William Bridges, who writes about transitions in work and in life, wrote a book called Managing Transitions, which discusses how change impacts people in their work life. He also wrote a book called Transitions: Making sense of life’s changes, which describes how people deal with transitions in their personal life.I highly recommend both books as you work to understand how the people around you are likely to deal with an upcoming change.
How does your company react to change?
For obvious reasons, change management is a lot easier in organizations that value innovation or like to fail fast and course correct. It’s important to understand your company’s true willingness to embrace change. Many organizations say they value innovation, but in reality simply want to be told that everything they are doing now (which is what they are comfortable with) is the correct path to follow. I believe these types of organizations are the most difficult to work with to implement change. Because leadership will say they value change, they often feel that they are changing. The reality is often much different. Management will have “reasons” why change can’t, won’t, or didn’t work. Change agents aren’t given the long-term support needed to implement change initiatives. Or the change agent will lack a high-level sponsor of the change, leading everyone else in the organization to dismiss the new initiative. Employees will often feel that if they just “ride it out,” this new initiative will pass just as others have.
How will you communicate the change?
Although change management is defined as a structured approach for dealing with change. Really change management is about dealing with people. Communication is key. In my day job, I often need to present new marketing ideas that fly in the face of what our clients have been doing or thinking for a long time. I’ve found that helping my clients understand everything we thought about as we developed our new ideas makes acceptance of these ideas much more likely. In a typical marketing plan presentation, I’ll spend 75% of my time talking about how we developed our ideas and 25% of my time actually explaining the ideas themselves. Only after I’ve explained everything we learned through our research and meetings do I reveal our conclusions. When clients are walked through our thought process and learn what we learned, our ideas make a lot more sense and seem much more palatable.
Don’t quit too soon
Organizational change typically happens along a change curve, similar to a grief curve. When I was working on my Master’s at Concordia University - Wisconsin, one of the classes I took involved discussions on change and change management. In that class we learned that it is not unusual for leaders to reach stage 4 on the change curve, which is often described as a period of acceptance and commitment to change, and feel as though the change process is complete. Unfortunately, stage 4 is not the end of change management. Old habits are hard to break. Not everyone reaches stage 4 at the same time. To ensure lasting change, look for measurable metrics and plan to revisit these metrics long after you think the change management process is complete.
Even though sustained change isn’t easy, it is possible. Stay motivated. Change is necessary. After all, if you don’t like change, you’ll really hate irrelevance.