Six Steps for Successful Change Management

Swirl by Edward Musiak Medium FlickrManaging change at the organizational level can be incredibly challenging—almost like maneuvering an ocean liner through a series of tight turns, narrow channels, and often stormy weather. But there are key steps you can take as a leader in your organization or team to make sure change management is steered straight, as opposed to floundering.

Recently, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) changed its name to the Association for Talent Development (ATD), as announced by CEO Tony Bingham at their International Conference and Exposition. Reactions to the name change ranged from excitement, cynical, to disappointment. While the debate goes on of whether or not changing the name to the Association for Talent Development appropriately represents the work of the members, one thing is clear. For a major change like this—an identity change, no less—the change process could have been handled better.

While the intent on the name change was good, the process was not. Bingham told the live audience that it took ASTD two and a half year to decide on a new name. However, most members didn’t know that a change was coming and felt disregarded or disrespected when the news was announced.

Consulting with your constituents before implementing major change is a critical step in any change management program. When members of your organization feel they are heard, they are more likely to support your change effort. This cardinal rule applies in membership organizations such as ATD, as well as in companies where employees are members of the organization or business.

Here are six key steps you can take to ensure a successful change process:

1. Clearly articulate reasons for making a change and paint a picture of what the new state look like. Whenever change happens, people will feel a sense of loss regardless of how positive or great the new state is. Spelling out the reasons for change will help ease the sense of loss. Painting a detailed picture of how the future looks will energize employees to rally around the new goals.

2. Get employees involved early in the change process. People who lead the change have more information and time to process the information than the majority of the organization. While senior management has thought about the need for change long before announcing the change initiative, employees who do not know that a major change is coming often react with surprise and anger when they first hear about the change. You can provide a communication channel, such as an employee survey or focus groups, to test your change concept and for your employees to provide feedback.

Getting employees involved early in the process, asking for their feedback—especially from frontline employees, would make the change process more effective. You would be taking into consideration the impact such a change may have on different departments and functions, and create a strategy for addressing these impacts.

3. Communicate frequently. It usually takes a village and a lot of time to transition from the current state to the future state. It’s important to communicate frequently with employees about the status of the transition. Err on the side of over-communicating because people crave accurate and timely information during a transition. The last thing you want to happen during a transition is for employees to start a rumor mill. You’ll then need to debunk the misinformation AND provide accurate information about the change. You’ll need to re-engage employees and re-earn their trust.

4. Acknowledge the old, celebrate the past, and welcome the new. In the midst of a busy transition from the old to the new, many leaders forget to acknowledge and celebrate the past. It’s important to acknowledge how past successes have led the company to its current state. You can build on the foundation of past success, acknowledge employees’ contributions, and launch for the future.

5. Establish the new normal. Throughout the change process, be cognizant of what new behaviors you want of your employees. Establish new norms, language, and align your existing operational processes to support the new direction. From our experience working with clients, we see that companies that are growing too fast without establishing the needed infrastructure and operational processes create a lot of chaos for employees and their employee engagement scores decline.

6. Prototype, revise, iterate, and repeat. As much as this is a cliché, change is the only constant in life. For a company to stay successful, it needs to respond to market changes quickly and be prepared for surprises. Organizations can borrow from design thinking, the process of using rapid prototyping, pilot testing an idea before any large-scale implementation, and embedding empathy and user-centric design principles in all its change initiatives.

What makes change successful at your organization? Please comment below or tweet me @Novacrea.

If you want deeper insights into how your change initiatives are impacting your employees, learn more about our TalentFocus Impact Survey.

Photo credit: Edward Musiak, Flickr

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Posted in Employee Communication, Employee Engagement, Leadership

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