Change management is a challenging but critical part of business success. How an organization manages change is impactful because it not only allows the organization to improve, but also defines how quickly it arrives at the new improvement or capability it’s aiming for. Change is so universal that speed is a new competitive advantage in today’s rapidly changing environment, and getting left behind can be fatal.
But, as we all know, change is hard. Very few people like change and the reasons vary: they don’t understand the need for it, they view it as an inconvenience, or they’re just set in their ways. When it’s time for your organization to implement a change — whether it’s a new business process, corporate structure, IT tool, or anything in between — successfully managing that change process is a necessity to ensure a smooth transition that includes getting (most of) the change-haters on board. Here are some key tips to effectively govern change in your organization so that you can become more agile and realize the benefits of your new initiatives that much sooner.
The People Involved in Change
While it may seem like an oversimplification, most people are one of three types when it comes to change:
- Leaders, or those who “get it”: Leaders are your most valuable allies in implementing a change. They understand the ultimate vision and the need for the change and its benefits, and are dedicated to implementing it and ensuring a smooth transition.
- Followers, or those who don’t “get it,” but want to: Followers within the organization are still a great asset. They may see the need for the change or the roadmap to get there, but they don’t fully understand their role or the specifics driving the change.
- Resisters, or those who don’t “get it” and don’t want to: Resisters are, of course, the most challenging group to work with. They are opposed to the change and while they may not be outright hostile toward your efforts, they certainly won’t go out of their way to participate or ease the transition.
When implementing a new tool throughout your organization, for example, your leaders will show enthusiasm early on, adopting the tool and exploring all its features and functionality. Followers might take a little more convincing or additional training, but with the right mindset and a full understanding of how the tool fits into the bigger picture of the company and their position, they will adapt and come around. A resister, however, is the “problem child,” who will resist switching to the new tool until they absolutely must, affecting productivity and consistency across the organization.
How to Avoid Resisters
You can review a great summary of the 10 Principles of Change Management here, but our biggest takeaways are that culture, communication, and consistency are the keys to successful change implementation.
- Culture: It’s crucial to understand how your company culture makes your organization more or less receptive to change at all levels. Understanding your culture will help you determine what strategies work and what will not, as well as identify who will fall into what roles. If the culture you strive for hasn’t permeated all levels of your company, the time to make it happen is before announcing a major change, not during or after the resisters have had a chance to slow things down.
- Communication: A major change should never be introduced without clear and effective communication. You should get lots of people involved to define and describe the ultimate vision for the company and what the journey from point A to point B will look like. If a change is announced without any communication about the reasons behind it or the benefits, the resisters will just dig in their heels that much deeper.
- Consistency: Finally, your communications, culture, and the actions taken at the highest level to embrace and promote change must be consistent. If a change doesn’t start at the top, or if you communicate different things to different groups, your resisters will notice and become even more entrenched in their outdated ways.
Today change is all around us and moving at a faster pace than ever before, in the development of new technology as well as all other aspects of business operations. If this seems overwhelming, remember that improvements do not have to be done all at once, and in fact, they rarely are a “quantum leap” from one point to the next. Instead, many smaller but effectively managed changes over time that are the result of a shared vision can build upon each other to totally transform your organization into a more efficient and successful one. In fact, a blog article I just wrote last month goes into this concept in more depth.
Unfortunately, even with the best roadmap, sometimes the resisters won’t move past begrudging and unenthusiastic adoption of the new when their preferred way of doing things is no longer an option — but that’s something you may have to live with. Proactively addressing your culture and taking the steps to plan and communicate the change consistently across all levels of your company will lay the groundwork to sway many resisters before you even introduce a change, and should always be the first part of your change management strategy. Change is a constant, so you should make sure your organization is always primed and ready to evolve and become more successful.