In today’s ever-disruptive markets, one thing is guaranteed -- change.
Companies that want to remain competitive must be capable of rapidly shifting direction and strategy. They need to make decisions quickly and implement accompanying changes.
Sometimes changes will need to be company-wide, altering the entire organizational culture, and other times they may be focused to specific teams. Changes can happen in response to emerging technologies, consumer demands, regulations, market conditions, and more.
While the ability to adapt and evolve is critical in a business environment, change is scary.
Team members generally fear change, assuming the worst: layoffs, cutbacks, restructuring, new management or leadership dynamics. It’s an understandable and normal reaction. Often even leaders are intimidated by these unknowns, and yet they are tasked with leading their people through them.
This makes it especially challenging to lead confidently, setting the tone, pace, and mentality for organization. Yet while you often can’t control the forces causing the changes, may not have all the information you’d like, and usually have your own apprehensions with which to contend, there are effective ways to manage organizational change.
1. Have a Plan & Craft it Carefully
Leading people through difficult times requires solid strategies. Many companies fail to implement long term changes because they don’t take the time to craft a plan that identifies pitfalls; communicates clearly, consistently, and transparently; builds trust and empowers team members; and tracks and measures the outcomes of the changes.
Having a well-thought-out strategy and the right leadership in place to lead it are the most important parts of successful organizational change.
Before evening bringing proposed changes to your team, you should at the very least identify how, when, and why the changes are happening.
You should also have identified who is responsible for leading the changes, what tasks will be required of various teams, a timeline for implementation, and if there are changing roles or responsibilities.
2. Identify & Address Sources of Resistance
While managers are often aware of this, few take the time before implementing organizational change to systematically assess who might be resistive and why they would feel this way. Identifying this allows you to properly handle potential pushback.
Understanding the root cause of the resistance allows you to effectively address it. There are a variety of ways to win over support for the changes, from communicating, educating, incentivizing, involving, and supporting your team members throughout the process.
3. Be Transparent & Truthful
A surefire way to undermine support for organizational change before is with a lack of transparency and honesty.
Change is hard because it is the unknown. Even if your leadership team is aware of all of the phases, you often can’t reveal them to your entire organization. Some things are confidential.
This makes it especially important to be transparent when you can. Even if you can’t loop all of your team members in fully, sharing as much as possible about the process demystifies it.
When people know what to expect, when to expect it, and what the impact will be, they feel significantly more comfortable in navigating the changes, and more confident in the capabilities of their leadership to carry them through.
Hand-in-hand with transparency is honesty. While it’s easy to be honest when you’re sharing positive changes (ex. team members are receiving raises), it can be much more challenging when the changes aren’t quite so pleasant. Often, organizational change means increased workloads in the interim, tighter budgets, and other short-term, not-ideal outcomes.
The temptation to sugarcoat updates, or make unrealistic promises only undermines confidence in your organization and leadership.
4. Empower & Involve Employees
Honesty and transparency go a long way in building trust, but so does empowering your employees and encouraging their active participation.
Research shows that strategic involvement of employees in organizational changes can have great benefits, from a sense of control to increased acceptance to enhanced interpersonal trust.
Conversely, when poorly managed, participation can become tedious and time consuming, and result in ill-fitting solutions (which is always a danger of decision-by-committee).
Consequently, it’s important to know when and how to meaningfully involve employees. Sometimes it’s as simple as providing opportunities for feedback.
Other times you’re better served to educate and empower employees. Providing adequate, practical training on new technologies or processes will assuage fears of being left behind due to lack of comfort with or knowledge of the new systems.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Here's a Good Rule of Thumb:
Communicate more than you think you need to, and then double that.
In the best circumstances, communication is tough. Employees don’t always read their emails. Some communications need to be delivered face-to-face. Other times you find yourself stuck in unnecessary meetings.
Finding the right communication tool (i.e. one-on-one meetings, team meetings, emails, etc.) is challenging, and incorporating a wide variety of formal and informal methods will help get messaging out.
When your organization is in the middle of major changes, clear, consistent, and open communication is more important than ever. It minimizes rumors, confusion, and fear, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.
6. Celebrate Quick Wins
Significant organizational change is usually a long process. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the major milestones and be so focused on the finish line that you forget to celebrate quick wins.
But small wins along the way are encouraging to team members. Whether it’s through an official employee recognition program, or more informal celebrations, it never hurts to acknowledge progress.
In a market where the majority of employees don’t feel strongly valued at work, it’s worth it to celebrate your team members whenever you can.
7. Monitor & Measure
With all the effort your teams are putting in to successfully implementing organizational changes, it would be shortsighted not to monitor and measure that the changes are actually working.
Consistent oversight of the rollout ensures that things go smoothly. It also allows you to address problems as they arise, not after the fact.
Define your metrics for success and keep circling back to them throughout the process. These agreed-upon goals will serve as your north star, keeping you on track and ensuring that you don’t deviate from the initial vision.