The business world is filled with reports of vibrant companies that persevered through change and fleeting memories of defunct organizations that couldn’t adapt to shifting market conditions. In fact, D&B reports that over 96,000 U.S. businesses failed during 2009 and more than 80,000 failed in 2010, proving that a lack of change management is a risky proposition.
Unless executives provide employees with a model of the future state and a roadmap leading to the goal, workers may resist change or languish amid uncertainty.
“You can’t guide an organization through change by winging it,” says Kimberlie England, principal and national practice leader of Communication and Change Management at Findley Davies. “Executives need a strategic plan that moves people from being aware of change to embracing it, by weaving new ideas into the organization’s culture.”
Smart Business spoke with England about her reliable methodology for driving organizational change in today’s turbulent business climate.
What’s the first step toward effective change management?
Executives must anticipate change and follow a series of sequential steps to shepherd their company through any transformation. First, they should assess the organization’s current state and readiness for change, using surveys or focus groups. This evaluation process pinpoints the underlying causes of employee fear or reluctance and allows leaders to proactively eliminate potential barriers to change by introducing targeted solutions. Don’t make assumptions when assessing your organization’s readiness for change; rather, review fresh data and devise innovative solutions.
How can executives bolster support for change?
Unless leaders openly embrace change, employees never will. Executives must build the case for change and help employees connect with new ideas by modeling the way. In fact, the perception of a double standard can foster an unhealthy ‘us versus them’ mentality and cause employees to resist a beneficial change.
For example, a CEO can’t announce a new wellness initiative and expect employees to modify their habits. He or she has to emphasize the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, lead by example, and outline a host of tantalizing rewards to motivate employees. Remember that line managers and stakeholders play a critical role in fostering organizational change, so make sure they’re committed to your plan before launching a major initiative. Finally, be sure to stop at critical junctures to measure your team’s progress. Otherwise, you may lose people along the way and never reach your final destination.
How can executives create a future vision?
Employees will respond favorably to change if they know where they’re headed, and because most people are visual learners, use a model to communicate your vision in addition to words. Paint a picture of the future state and provide a roadmap with milestones leading to the desired goal, so employees can chart the company’s progress and stay focused, especially during a complex change that may take months. Knowing where you want to go also benefits leaders, because it helps them develop a strategy for achieving their vision. Finally, support employees during the journey by acknowledging each milestone achieved and continually reinforcing the benefits of the change.
What constitutes a successful strategy?
A successful change strategy includes these critical elements.
- Stakeholder involvement: Include key stakeholders during the planning phase so they embrace ideas, become advocates for change, and help push the company forward during the implementation phase.
- Quantifiable objectives: Define the specific objectives of the initiative along with a series of interim milestones, so employees can use the plan as a roadmap to chart their progress.
- Defined audiences: Identify groups of key influencers, such as line managers and union leaders, and use targeted messages and tailored benefits so they fully understand and endorse your plan.
- Targeted communications: A successful strategy should define the specific communication channels for reaching various audiences. Consider e-mail, blogs, webinars, online chat, and social media to invite an open dialogue about the proposed change.
How can executives author specific goals or metrics to measure interim progress?
Consider the steps that lead to the ultimate goal and how the change will look and feel to establish interim measures during the strategic planning process. For example, you’d expect to see an increase in visits to a new website when the company announces a transition to self-service benefits. Next, move to more sophisticated measures, like an increase in employee registrations and growth in online claims to chart your actual progress. Change is not a linear process, so employees may slip back or temporarily revert to old habits, but executives can persevere by reinforcing the need for change and providing additional motivation until the transformation is complete.
What are the final steps?
Continue to reward and recognize new behaviors when you reach the implementation phase, but don’t get lost in the minutia. Focus on the final goal and stick with the strategy. Use testimonials to cite examples of success and illuminate the path toward the new state by providing frequent updates and noting when employees pass important landmarks. You’ll know you’ve reached your final destination when the plan is no longer an idea and becomes an integral part of the organization’s culture.
Kimberlie England is a principal and the national practice leader of Communication and Change Management at Findley Davies. Reach her at (419) 327-4109 or firstname.lastname@example.org.