Taming change Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009

Managers who launch a change initiative based on the tidy, sequential and well-defined path described in textbooks often see the initiative fizzle and fail. In practice, change in today’s intricate marketplace is usually squeezed from many sides by transparent and uncontrollable forces.

Unwary change leaders can be blindsided by the unpredictable nature of change. Three issues commonly cited as unexpected roadblocks by change managers are inadequate support for a change, failure to define expectations and goals early in the process, and failure to involve everyone who ultimately will be affected by the change.

“Effective change management entails an understanding of the effects of the change on the business and the effects upon people and how to mitigate potential sources of resistance to that change,” said Tom Stewart, vice president of WorkForce Solutions, Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance.

Smart Business asked Stewart why customers expect change, how to lessen employee stress throughout change and why change management is critical to creating a positive long-term change atmosphere.

Why is successful change management a strategic imperative for organizations?

In today’s marketplace, change is an ongoing necessity. According to a 2007 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, 82 percent of companies had planned or implemented major organizational change in the prior 24 months. As evidenced by the survey, you must constantly change and evolve in order to grow and not remain stagnant. In order for your company to be successful, clients need to feel they are receiving not only good service but the latest and greatest service at all times. To meet these demands, businesses must be in constant evolution. Effectively managing the dynamic business environment necessitates both vision and fortitude to quickly respond to change.

What components of change cause anxiety, and what missteps feed this anxiety?

Change management entails understanding the transitioning of individuals through the phases of the change while strengthening the organizational development initiative. In order to effectively strengthen your organization through change, it must be properly managed to avoid any barriers. On an individual basis, fear of the unknown is really what causes the greatest anxiety. While the real concern may be, ‘How will this change affect me?’ or, ‘Will I lose my job because of this change?’ often it manifests itself as an intense resistance to upcoming changes. Thoughtful planning and communication is an imperative to relieve that tension and foster successful organizational change. Missteps can and will occur if the essentials of change management are not closely addressed. Failure to allow for thorough development, constant communication and collaboration across all lines of business will only feed in to the anxiety some may feel during a major organizational change.

What are the first steps to introduce the change initiative and gain employee buy-in?

The ADKAR model, developed by Prosci, for individual change management is an exceptional tool. The model describes the required building blocks for change to be realized successfully on an individual level. The building blocks include Awareness of why the change is needed, Desire to support and participate in the change, Knowledge of how to change, Ability to implement the change on a day-to-day basis, and Reinforcement to sustain the change.

When deploying a major change in your organization, a critical first step in change management is organizational awareness of the reasons for change. At this step in the process, communication at all levels is paramount to achieving true change. Awareness allows your employees to buy in to the change initiative, which is a necessary building block to achieve desire from employees to change. Resistance is a natural reaction to change, so achieving awareness to develop a desire to actively support and participate in the change itself is critical. During these initial stages, constant communication is needed to achieve employee buy-in for the change initiative to be a success.

How can forums facilitate change?

Dictating change from the top down is the easy way to go about change. Employees from all levels should be brought in to feel like they are part of the change. Employing focus groups allows you to tailor change ideas to what would work best with their practices and how to best implement the changes. Facilitating the communication of the change by making the employees feel like they are part of the change process is the only way to get true employee buy-in.

How can leaders make their company more change-friendly for future initiatives?

Creating a positive change atmosphere, where individuals see change as not only for the improvement of the organization but also for the betterment of themselves as employees, will make future change initiatives relatively easy. Showing employees that change shouldn’t create fear or anxiety enables your company to not just adapt to future change, but also thrive from change.

TOM STEWART is vice president of WorkForce Solutions, Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. Reach him at (813) 930-7559 or stewartt@workforcetampa.com.