Navigating organizational change can seem like an uphill battle. Even the most seasoned leaders may find that a change they championed – a new system or policy – isn’t working. Perhaps the change doesn’t help employees serve customers better, or it makes their jobs even harder. In fact, the change might have the opposite effect of what it was intended to do.
This type of scenario isn’t as uncommon as you may think. Research shows that 70% of change efforts fail. But just because change is difficult to manage doesn’t mean it’s impossible to implement successfully. Want to increase your odds of getting it right from the start? Here are some key change management tips to help your next organizational transformation go more smoothly.
Change management is often defined as a structured and intentional approach to transitioning individuals, teams and organizations from their current state to a desired future state. It involves planning, implementing and monitoring changes in processes, systems, structures, technologies or culture within an organization.
When properly executed, change management helps minimize resistance and dramatically increases the chances of successful change adoption.
Due to the complex nature of organizational transitions and human responses to change, companies implementing changes, especially on a large scale, can encounter several challenges. These may include:
- Resistance to change – Employees may resist change due to fear of the unknown or the unfamiliar, or because of concerns about their job security. The result is often decreased productivity and morale.
- Lack of leadership buy-in or support – Lack of commitment, ownership or involvement from leaders can hinder change efforts, as their endorsement and active engagement are critical for successful change implementation.
- Poor or ineffective communication – Unclear, inadequate or inconsistent communication about the reasons for change, the expected benefits and the intended outcomes can create confusion and anxiety among employees, reducing cooperation.
- Lack of ownership and commitment – Employee buy-in is also important. By excluding employees from decision-making or the change process, inadequate employee involvement can inhibit change from occurring.
- Culture clash – A company culture that resists change or conflicts with the proposed changes can pose significant obstacles.
- Employee overwhelm – Trying to change too much in a company too quickly can lead to burnout and overwhelm among team members. This is sometimes referred to as “change fatigue.”
Overcoming these challenges for a successful change implementation requires a strategic and well-planned approach, strong leadership, effective communication and employee involvement. But how can a company ensure these? Keep reading for some ideas on how to make your change management process as successful as possible.
8 change management tips
The most important change management tip is also the most basic – ensure specific, clear, consistent and open communication regarding the organization’s change throughout the entire process. This includes communicating:
- The reasons for the change
- Before you implement your change initiative, articulate the reasons behind the change and as many of the specifics as you know about what is changing.
- It’s critical that your employees understand what’s driving the change, how the change furthers the mission of the company, and why they should get behind it.
- The benefits and expected outcomes
- How will the change make work better? For example, will a new technology help employees serve their customers better and make their jobs easier? Or will a new emphasis on training help employees sharpen their skills and make them more promotable or boost their salary?
- Make the change matter in a personal way by sharing the specific benefits and ultimate outcomes your employees can expect.
- What specifically will change
- If you’re asking people to change, they need to know specifically what they’re being asked to do differently, as well as how to do it.
- For instance, if you’re introducing a new project management tool, thorough training sessions should be conducted to ensure employees understand exactly how to utilize it effectively. Allocate sufficient time for employees to familiarize themselves with the new tool, and provide necessary resources and support to ensure a smooth transition.
Additionally, it’s also important to facilitate communication among stakeholders and the employees closest to the work that’s going to be affected, and get their input from the start. Address concerns and questions promptly to reduce uncertainty and build trust among stakeholders. Incorporate their feedback to foster a sense of ownership, help them feel more invested in the change and enhance the chances of a successful implementation.
2. Stay aligned with the company culture
Take careful note of your company’s workplace culture and values as you shape your change initiative – it’s critical to ensure that the proposed changes align with the existing culture. For example, if your organization leans toward caution and a gradual approach, suddenly pushing for quick decisions can be counterproductive. Aim for change that seamlessly integrates into the organization’s customary way of doing things, nurturing a cohesive culture that embraces progress while still staying true to its roots.
3. Share an inspiring look at the future
The clearer you make the vision of your company, the easier it will be for each employee to picture how they fit into the scene you’ve portrayed. Aligning your change initiative with the company’s overall goals is vital, as it not only provides clarity but also emphasizes the significance of the change in relation to specific company objectives and the broader success of the organization. But you’ll need to create an inspiring vision before you can give clarity to it.
Challenge leadership to craft a story that will not only encourage everyone to “get on board” but also motivate them to do their best work, thus contributing to the achievement of those broader company goals. A compelling narrative, shared skillfully, can dramatically increase the chances of success with organizational change, according to a Harvard Business Review article, Storytelling That Drives Bold Change, written by Frances X. Frei and Anne Morriss. “Your story can transform your organization by shaping attitudes and beliefs, starting with your own.”
4. Provide support, training and development
Sometimes it’s not that employees don’t want to embrace new changes – it’s simply that they don’t have the skills or knowledge to adapt to them. Provide them with training and development programs as part of the change process to invest in their growth and ensure they’re adequately prepared for the changes ahead. Allow sufficient time for your team to become prepared for any new responsibilities as far ahead of the change implementation as possible.
5. Enlist the help of leaders and influencers at all levels
Engaging visible and influential leaders to champion the change is vital to any change effort. Leaders should be able to clearly articulate the vision, demonstrate their commitment and actively support the change, thereby inspiring others to embrace it.
But don’t just look to your senior leaders. The importance of the role of frontline managers and employees is frequently underestimated. They hold up the vision, reinforce key messages, manage conflict and bring people together to uncover concerns and questions. And most importantly, they’re responsible for modeling attitudes and actions that will help everyone get to the desired future state.
6. Implement changes gradually
It’s best to break down company changes into manageable phases or steps, allowing for incremental implementation and integration. Taking this kind of gradual approach significantly reduces overwhelm and permits continuous assessment and adjustments as needed by leadership. This, in turn, can foster a smoother transition and greater employee acceptance. Bite-size changes are almost always more palatable than eating the whole frog at once.
Along your journey, don’t forget to take the time to celebrate achievements and milestones, regardless of their size. Acknowledge the progress made, recognize and applaud the efforts of specific employees, and reinforce the positive impacts of changes by sharing concrete examples of their benefits. These celebrations serve not only as morale boosters but also as markers of progress toward the ultimate goal.
8. Stay flexible and welcome feedback
The chance that your change management plan will remain unchanged throughout your transition is a slim one. To measure and monitor success effectively, it’s crucial to establish success metrics from the outset. This can include metrics like user adoption rate, utilization rate and proficiency rate. Having a baseline after the initial launch, and implementing a cadence of measurement at intervals such as 30, 60, 90 and 120 days after launch, will provide essential data for making adjustments over time to help ensure the ongoing success of the change initiative.
It’s important to encourage a continuous feedback loop from employees and stakeholders at various levels throughout the change process. Actively utilize this feedback to measure success, make necessary and informed adjustments, refine the change plan and ensure alignment with the organization’s overarching objectives. Staying flexible and responsive fosters a culture of inclusivity and adaptability, which is critical for successful change implementation that achieves the identified success metrics.
Summing it all up
No matter how big or small, change is a dynamic process, and flexibility is key. By following the tips shared in this article, you can foster a culture of strong communication, collaboration, transparency and adaptability, enabling you to successfully lead your organization through change.
Looking for more help managing change in your organization? Download our free magazine, The Insperity guide to leading through change, for more useful tips.