Change is necessary — unavoidable, even. Yet despite its inevitability, organizations still struggle to implement change programs that stand the test of time. Change is much more than implementing new technologies or redesigning workflows. When we enact a new change initiative, we must also consider the individual behaviors, corporate culture, resource constraints, and potential obstacles that might stand in the way of implementing and sustaining those changes. Often, companies fail to consider these other aspects of managing change and fall short of meeting their objectives.
As markets become increasingly unpredictable and businesses face more scrutiny from the public, it can feel like companies lack the latitude to enact change properly without disrupting service quality or customer satisfaction. But by following a set of proven principles to guide their processes, organizations can elevate their change competency and implement change faster with less impact on productivity. And as businesses fight to gain headway over their rivals, these guidelines can be the competitive advantage companies need to get ahead.
Why Change Management Fails
Change isn’t linear — and viewing major changes as an isolated event rather than an ongoing journey contributes to many of change management’s failures. According to KPMG, less than half of the executives surveyed felt they could realize sustainable value from their business transformations. Further still, they found that “37% of executives surveyed say that the greatest execution barrier they face in transformation is underestimating the significance of changes to their organization’s operating model.” Statistics like these show how easy it can be for leaders to become so focused on what’s changing that they forget how these modifications can affect their front line. Ultimately, without personal change, there is no organizational change.
10 Guiding Principles to Better Execute Change Management
To help organizations avoid becoming another statistic, we’ve developed ten guiding principles based on our consultants’ experiences with change management. These principles can act as a roadmap to guide businesses in the right direction and get you thinking about some of the more nuanced aspects of change. Each step has been intentionally designed to lead into the next, creating a gradual, strategic approach that delivers the best results.
1. Lead with the Culture
If a company’s existing culture doesn’t leave room for improvement, a major change initiative simply won’t work, no matter how much time or effort is put into it. Company culture informs how people interact, behave, and work together within the workplace — and if this vital aspect is ignored during the change process, it can bring any headway to a halt.
A thorough culture assessment can reveal attributes of an already-established culture and can act as a blueprint for aligning current company values with future objectives. We can assess culture at three levels:
- Artifact Analysis: Conduct a deep dive into existing artifacts such as employee handbooks, onboarding processes, and other HR documents that can give insight into what the company currently values.
- Staff Discussions: Speaking with staff, even informally, can reveal a lot about how employees feel about the current culture, their previous experiences with change, and more.
- Operational Observations: Actions can speak louder than words, and simply observing how people work and interact with one another can be eye-opening. Take notes on how teams communicate and look for potential barriers that might arise during the change journey.
2. Create a Future Vision
A future vision is a north star that can boost self-efficacy and allow individuals, teams, and the organization to understand what all this change is ultimately intended to achieve. As change plans inevitably shift throughout your company’s journey, this concept can help everyone involved stay on course toward the program’s objectives.
The first step toward designing your ideal operational state is to confront reality and communicate why there’s a need for change. Are you implementing new technology because your company has fallen behind competitors? Are you changing internal processes because important projects keep slipping through the cracks? Being honest about why you’re implementing a change initiative can help you whittle down what your goals are for the future.
Second, change agents (such as a guiding coalition or key stakeholders) must convey how the proposed changes pave the way to realizing the success envisioned in that future ideal.
Finally, ensure the company’s vision stays top of mind for everyone by weaving it into communications across all levels, intentionally and often. These messages will remind teams what the change’s purpose is so they can rally behind and unite over the common goal of achieving that vision.
3. Involve the Whole Organization
Perhaps the most crucial step in any organizational transformation is engaging people at all levels of the hierarchy from the very beginning. This step will likely prove challenging, but taking your time during this stage can enable a more efficient change implementation as you move through the process. Doing so achieves two things: it allows more information to surface so you can address concerns early on. Second, it loops in everyone from directors and managers to front-line employees — and when people are involved from the start, they can understand why the change is happening and how it affects them.
4. Take a Top-Down Approach
An essential component of involving the entire organization is aligning key executives and stakeholders around the change effort. Employees can’t be excited about changes happening if they don’t see that same level of enthusiasm and commitment from their leadership. For example, if a company introduces a new system, but executives fail to use it regularly, it’s only natural that employees won’t use it either. Then months later, when reviewing the implementation outcomes, the company is left wondering why they don’t see the desired results.
As found by McKinsey, “On average, when leaders are asked if they ‘role model desired behavior changes,’ a full 86 percent report that they do. When the same question is put to people who report to these leaders, it receives only a 53 percent average positive response.” Once executives genuinely advocate for change and model the desired behaviors, they can begin to influence and inspire their teams to do the same.
5. Prioritize Your People
When employees are expected to develop new skills or learn new software, they can quickly become resistant. It can be easy for leadership to have too narrow a focus on the operational aspects of the transformation and overlook how these changes ultimately impact not only how people work, but their behaviors, mindsets, and more. When leaders fail to anticipate these facets of the change, they’re forced to react in the moment — which can significantly set back a project timeline and risk the adoption rate.
Rather than struggling to address problems as they arise, change management should be based on a realistic assessment of the company’s history, capacity to change, and above all, its readiness to change. For an organization to be proactive rather than reactive, a people-centric change management plan must be developed early and adjusted often.
6. Reach Out to Resistors
No matter what’s changing, whether a single team’s processes or an organization-wide leadership shift, any transformation will affect the people — and let’s face it, people don’t like change. Rick Mauer, the author of Beyond the Wall of Resistance, outlines three main reasons people resist change: “I don’t get it, I don’t like it, and I don’t like you.” For every change, there will be resistors, but how you approach those resistors will set the course for how your change program unfolds.
Many people associate change with negativity, but if you can make the process positive, you can start seeing some pretty surprising results. Some strategies you can use to reach out to those resistant to change may include:
- Connecting the changes to issues they care about
- Encouraging frequent, open conversations with management or within peer groups
- Providing resources such as training, workshops, and toolkits that are easily accessible
- Engaging in knowledge sharing, such as showing them data related to the process so that they feel included, not isolated, from the change plans
- Checking in on their progress through routine pulse checks and surveys
Most importantly, if resistors see that you’re sincerely taking an interest in their concerns, they’ll be more likely to meet you halfway.
7. Create a Guiding Coalition
One of the best ways to ensure an organization can successfully grow operations after change implementation is by having strong advocates be vocal about adopting and sustaining that change. Like leadership modeling desired behavior, a guiding coalition can motivate and advise their peers throughout the change journey. Creating a team of change advocates allows this team to develop stronger relationships that drive plans forward while giving them the sense of stewardship needed to show others how and why the change is worthwhile.
Once you’ve identified your guiding coalition, you must set goals and outline the collaboration’s benefits. Using opportunities such as meetings, conferences, and workshops can be a great way to maintain communication to ensure the coalition’s vitality and success throughout the program.
8. Empower Your Employees
Successful change initiatives require much more than passive agreement. In the same way that having change agents or leaders inspires teams to take ownership of the change, you’ll need to be proactive about finding additional ways to empower your employees. The more you can engage with and have people participate in the transformation, the more likely it is that internal change will take hold. In addition to applying the strategies mentioned in the previous guiding principles, consider the following to help encourage participation and steer people toward change advocacy:
- Host frequent, casual small talks that give more hesitant or quiet employees a space to express their concerns and contribute to the program.
- Include employees in decision-making, ask for their input, and be receptive to their suggestions. You won’t have the room to implement everyone’s feedback, but they’ll recognize your effort to hear them out.
- Delegate work when and where you can. This demonstrates trust, gives employees autonomy over their work, and allows them to take responsibility for projects and feel more involved in the company’s progress.
- Lastly, use the recognize and reward approach.
9. Recognize and Reward
One of the most effective ways to empower your employees is by applying the recognize and reward approach. Everyone adopts change at their own pace, and this method allows you to identify, acknowledge, and celebrate everyone’s individual wins as well as those made by the entire organization. Receiving public endorsements and recognition for great work will always empower employees and encourage others to want to do the same. These small celebrations can also serve as a way to reinvigorate teams, boost morale, and keep the needle moving in the right direction.
10. Communicate Often
Change programs should never be treated with a “set it and forget it” mentality. Open communication ensures people stay involved throughout the change journey and builds bridges between employees and leaders. This openness between teams can support your efforts in empowering employees and allow you to remain proactive about addressing concerns, potential resistors, and more.
Champion Change Management with SEI
At SEI, our consultants work with organizations across various industries and have the experience, resources, and tools to help you execute a change management strategy that works. We understand that every company is different and that the approach you take to change should be tailored to your unique circumstances and objectives.
Learn more about how we can help you guide resistors, empower change agents, and achieve your vision of aligning your company with its new objectives. Reach out to us today!