Change Management

As business consultants, we are used to seeing “The Look”.  “The Look” is hard to describe.  It’s not exactly a “deer in the headlights” kind of look, but it is definitely not a “walk in the park” look.  It’s probably best to refer to it as the “Oh no, things are not going to be the same” look i.e. things are about to change.  This quarter we discuss change management, the practice of supporting people through change.

Change can be a scary thing for many people.  However the need and necessity to change means that it is a fear every one of us must face at some point – and for some of us more and more often.  In fact, the frequency of change in today’s dynamic world is equally as relevant in the workplace, as life and work follow similar pathways.

Of course why we change in the office, factory or salesroom is driven by business strategy. Whether it be due to competition, technology, rising costs or customer demand, new initiatives invariably drive new or different processes, practices and production.  All of which compound on the one missing ‘p’ word… people.

People, the life force of any business, will make or break any change initiative.  And that is where we come back to “The Look”.  “The Look” is the result of the ambiguity and concern employees encounter when they know change is in the air (after all why else would the consultants have been called in?).  People however, are not fearful of change itself, but rather fear the loss that change may bring.  At Excellerated Analysis we call this ‘change anxiety’.  Often in the work environment this relates to loss of position, power or opportunity, but can actually be anything that keeps a person motivated in their current role.

Employees with change anxiety will most likely exhibit some form of resistance to the initiative driving the change, either actively or passively, thereby impacting the success of the project.  While each situation requires its own tailored approach, here are basic guidelines we have successfully deployed that can be used to best accustom your organization to an upcoming or active change and ease the level of change anxiety felt by your team.

#1 – Take the bull by the horns
Dealing with change anxiety is similar to the way experts deal with those wanting to overcome irrational life fears.  It is not about telling them that the fear is irrational, but explaining how the future state will be better than the current.  Actively engage your employees through discussions on the rationale, strategy and benefits behind the change to foster an environment that generates employee buy-in and transitions them from the sense that they ought to change to the realization that they need to change.

#2 – Passive observers to active participants
Go one step further by asking your employees to provide input and feedback into areas of the initiative that impacts them most.  Encourage them to send you a quick e-mail with their thoughts and try to integrate their feedback into the new processes.  Empowering and soliciting staff involvement will further draw them in and make them active participants in the change, as opposed to passive observers.

#3 – There is no such thing as over-communicating
They say that knowledge is power, but in this case knowledge is peace of mind.  A steady stream of communication will ensure the staff will feel informed and up-to-date on what is going on. Project kick-offs, e-mail updates and milestone celebrations are just a few ways to ensure everyone knows what they need to know and more importantly feels that they are “in the know”.

#4 – It all starts from the top
If a picture is worth a thousand words imagine the effect a leader who leads the charge has on their staff.  Presentations, speeches and emails will always be a distant second to the executive, boss or manager who actually shows their staff how the change is impacting their own work environment and how they are dealing with it.  Change is one of those things where people want to feel that they are all in it together, and that the corner office is being impacted as well.

#5 – When all else fails
There are times when even the most valiant efforts to encourage and motivate people to come on board to a new initiative do not succeed.  In cases such as these a little material influence can go a long way.  Announce to your staff that their adoption and contribution to the project will be considered during the next round of performance reviews.  This should stir those who are being resistant to action.  If it does not, then recognize that resistance to the initiative today will likely grow into a major morale issue tomorrow and possibly force a need for personnel changes.

But that is a topic for another time.  For now, ensure that change management is the corner stone of any organization impacting initiative and you will vastly increase the likelihood of the project completing; on time, on budget, and with all hands on deck.