Understanding change management

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In the maze of things and busy schedules of business life, there is a tendency to get stuck in the comfort zone, as long as business is functioning.

By Robert Mandeya

However, in the fast-pace world we live in, more and more organisations are often forced to evolve in order to adapt to new, demanding realities of the market. It is not an illusion that the world is changing and so are the people as well.

Therefore, companies that can adapt the fastest to such new conditions are more likely to survive and maintain the operations and relevance of their business. This corporate evolution, known as organisational change, may involve one or more of the elements of a company, from its culture and processes to its systems and values.

Triggers of change
There are many situations that may trigger change in an organisation. The triggers for change can be external (market upheaval, new technologies, acquisitions, more aggressive competition) or internal (spin-offs, mergers, lay-offs, cost reduction, new set of values, re-engineering processes). But like I pointed out in one of my previous instalments, at the heart of any organisation’s change prospects is the human factor. The “people” are the internal aspects that need to be set in motion. The company’s “internal publics” is a key component which will define the success or failure of any organisational change.

Definition
When it comes to people, the change-related organisational concept that deals with it is known as change management. Although scholars have created many definitions, change management can be defined as the set of strategies, plans and tools that help the employees of a company bring it from point A (its current situation) to point B (its desired situation). Whereas project management focusses on the technical aspects of change, such as the company’s processes, systems and structure, change management revolves around its human aspects: the behaviours, attitudes, skills and values of the members of the organisation.

Models
There are lots of change management models that can help you and your organisation to effectively deal with change. In one of my previous instalments, I unveiled the Prosci Adkar model, which consists of five dimensions of change (awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement). It came out that these dimensions are necessary to help individuals successfully go through the different stages of a transformation process. There is also another interesting model: Kotter’s eight-step process for leading change, which features key ideas such as the creation of a sense of urgency or setting a strategic vision for change.

Important principle
An important principle to heed in change management is that we are always dealing with people, who by definition are subjective and may react differently to the same approach, according to their own values, beliefs and context. In this sense, there is no use in applying a one-size-fits-all strategy.
Every initiative needs to consider all the nuances of human individuality, and be prepared to adapt accordingly. Although strategies may be as diverse as realities and organisations are in the world, from my own experience, there are some considerations I would recommend to any professional or change management team that is about to set out the exciting journey of a change management project:

Top leaders are the first to be convinced: the leaders of your organisation are a key factor to success in any change process, for they are the role models of your organisation. Change is about deeds, not words; it is about visible action, not void promises.

Define and spread a change vision: if people in the organisation do not understand the final goal of the change, it will be difficult for them to join in and commit to it, and for your efforts to create the momentum needed to bring about the change. Moreover, if they realise that the company’s leaders do not believe in that vision, they in turn will not believe in it either, as explained in the previous point.

Set your key metrics from the beginning: defining your key performance indicators (KPIs) is paramount to determine the success of your campaign. They may range from the needed levels of awareness, commitment and knowledge of the employees, to their skills and competences required to carry out the change.

What is in it for me? Regardless of the kind of change you are working on, this is the first question that will pop up in the employee’s mind whenever he or she hears about change: how am I going to be affected by it? What are the implications to my daily job? Is my current situation — in terms of roles and responsibilities, power and influence, formal or informal networks — going to be different? Am I at risk of losing my job? Be prepared to answer those questions from the onset.
Recruit opinion leaders across all departments: people whose voice and opinions have credibility in the different areas of your organisation will increase the change’s chances of success, for they are key in generating common agreement at the base of your company.

Remember that an opinion leader may not necessarily be a manager or senior person. It can be anyone in the company, as long as their leadership is legitimised by their peers and colleagues. Remember not all managers are leaders, and not all leaders are managers.

Involvement equals commitment: the more involved the employees are in the change — namely, the more the company ask for their participation in designing and implementing its new reality —, the more supportive they will be towards it.

Communicate, communicate, communicate: no change management strategy will be successful without a strong communication campaign that sends the right messages to the right audiences at the right time, touching a variety of channels and tactics.

For instance, whereas written tools, like posters, tweets, intranet and newsletter articles may serve you well in creating awareness about the change, face-to-face conversations between managers and rank and file employees are necessary to generate influence, motivation and buy-in towards the change, as well as tackling possible reasons to resist it.

Mandeya is an executive coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Leadership Institute for Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw, info@lird.co.zw or +263 772 466 925.

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