We live in a time of constant change. The currents of technological advancement, economic uncertainty and shifting cultural paradigms wash around the business landscape, eroding the notion of a comfortable routine and making adaptability one of the strongest predictors of success. But “adapt” is just another word for “change” and change is hard. In fact, the success rate of major business-related change initiatives is only 54%1. The importance of these initiatives and the challenges they present make having effective change management strategies in place an essential part of growth and success. There are three steps to smart change management: Understand. Involve. Prepare.
Though some people, especially leaders, thrive on the challenge and novelty of change, most people are naturally resistant. Your new training program or your revamped sales process might be clearly superior on paper, but the motivation for human behavior goes well beyond a calculating assessment of the cold hard facts. There are many factors that might affect a person’s feelings toward major changes in their working life:
- Emotion – The comfort of the familiar is a powerful draw. Anxiety and fear are very common reactions people have when faced with uncertainty in any situation. The workplace, of course, is no different.
- Experience – From health and financial situation to education and work experience, each person will evaluate the upcoming change within a context that is unique to their lives.
- Environment – Along with personal context, there is also organizational context. If there have been many recent changes, change fatigue is a common result. If a business has failed at implementing a major initiative in the past, that will weigh heavily on an employee’s willingness to engage.
Understanding and accepting that a person’s reaction to change will be a result of both rationality/logic and instinct/emotion will help inform your change management process so that the focus is on empowering employees to make a change rather than forcing them to do it.
For an example of the application of this concept, imagine that you want someone to change their eating habits to be healthier. Trying to impose a diet plan will theoretically be met with significant resistance, but improving their access to fruits and vegetables and teaching them to cook healthy meals will enable them to make good choices on their own. The same holds true for organizational change: change processes that are cooperative, tactical, nondisruptive and easy to imagine will be met with much less resistance than change processes that are drastic, direct and confrontational.
In order to be empowered, people must be involved. A person will be much more invested in the success of a change they helped devise.
Here are some ways to engage:
- Hold workshops – Provide a place where people can share ideas and develop a collective understanding.
- Send surveys – Understand where your organization is at the moment and where its members want to be in the future. Give everyone a voice.
- Be transparent – Disclosure is essential to engendering the trust that will be necessary for success. A person can’t begin to manage a change they don’t know about.
Change is a process. In order to implement change that is realistic, achievable and measurable, a thorough and thoughtful plan should be laid out. There are several change management models for companies to take advantage of, but the one that we prefer is ADKAR from Prosci2. Its common sense approach has proven to be simple, effective, and even inspiring. ADKAR stands for the five stages in your implementation plan that are essential for both initial and ongoing success:
- Awareness – An employee must be made aware of the need for change.
- Desire – An employee must be willing to participate in the change; they will want to know, “what’s in it for me?”
- Knowledge – An employee needs the necessary training and knowledge to make the change.
- Ability – An employee should have the opportunity to put that knowledge into practice.
- Reinforcement – It is easy to revert to old habits; an employee should be empowered to sustain the change.
There are many benefits to adopting an existing change management model. Having a framework for your implementation keeps your efforts organized and informs your tactical approach. Instead of starting at zero, saying, “I know something needs to change; now what?”, you can start planning your awareness campaign. Instead of declaring a premature victory directly after implementation, you can see that the reinforcement stage might need to include a rewards program or other incentive. A model can make the daunting task of a major change initiative into a structured and intuitive process.
It also offers a chance to more accurately measure your successes. If employees have a great response at the knowledge stage, you’ll know what tactics to repeat. If your effort begins to fall apart, you’ll be able to pinpoint where it happened with specific checkpoints to evaluate.
The pace of progress isn’t promising to slow, so the need for effective change strategies will only become more urgent. Invest the time now to understand the human aspect of company changes.