Whatever business you are in, you know that change is the only thing that is constant. Your business has to change in order to grow, to meet new challenges, to keep up with the competition, to adopt new technologies and improvements, and to tap into new markets.
In any business, change is the only reliable constant. Managing change well is a form of crating the future.
Yet managing change well is a challenging process. It is, in a sense, a way of creating the future. True change management doesn’t just involve getting through the change, coping with the change, or surviving the change; instead it requires careful construction of a process that will lead to successful implementation of the change for you and your colleagues or employees. Being successful at bringing change into reality at your organization requires that you first understand some foundational points.
The most famous scientist in the area of study of stimulus-response was Pavlov. He noticed the association that his dogs made between the ringing of a bell and the arrival of their food. He realized that the dogs would continue to respond with salivating even if the food was not offered. This type of response became automatic in the animals; it was not something that they chose
We don’t have to be at the mercy of our knee-jerk reactions to change. We can recognize the stimuli for change and then choose our response to it.
In human beings, we also are exposed to stimulus. In some cases, we have a knee-jerk, automatic reaction, such as when we blink when something is thrown near our eyes. However, in most cases, we have the ability to choose our response to stimuli.
This is true of change as well. We don’t have to allow change to happen to us and let the results just fall where they may. Instead, we can recognize the stimuli for change and then choose our response to it by determining what the change means to us and our business, deciding how we are going to manage the change in the way that will have us be the most successful, and then how we are going to help others through the change as well.
But what do we mean by change? In a business sense, change means moving from one way of doing things to another way of doing them. Certainly not every ‘change’ has to be managed. If you have to move from one cubicle to the next, there doesn’t need to be a management of that change other than knowing what to take with you and doing so. So when does change become something that needs to be managed?
Every organization will need to make the decision about whether or not to employ change management strategies based, in part, on how much risk would be associated with not doing so.
The answer can vary depending on the organization, the number of people involved, and the resources available. Every organization will need to make the decision about whether or not to employ change management strategies based, in part, on how much risk would be associated with not doing so. Or, when so much resistance is expected to a change that company operations could be jeopardized by rapid, unmanaged changed.
Some other times when change management is usually beneficial are when:
• The organization is merging or being acquired
• There is a significant change in the way people do their jobs
• There are significant changes in the positions people will hold
• The structure of the organization is changing to the point that it impacts those who do not have a say in the change
• The organization will be changing its focus, mission, or values
• The organization is ‘re-branding’ itself
• A significant change is being made in benefit or compensation plans
Benefits of Change Management
The list in the previous section is not exhaustive. The best decision on whether or not to use change management processes is when you have a goal in mind that those processes would aid in bringing into reality. For example, take a look at the list in Figure 1, which shows the benefits of using change management strategies.
• Employees fully understand why the change is happening.
• Employees participate in problem-solving as part of the change.
• Employees make an individual decision to commit to and support the change.
• Resistance is pre-empted and handled towards the beginning of the process.
• Those in leadership roles demonstrate and model their commitment to change for themselves and for the organization.
• Communication is audience-focused so that employees get the information that they need and care about.
• Momentum is seen at all levels of the organization.
• Employees, customers, and the organization experience less pain as a result of the change.
• The probability that projects will be successfully implemented is increased.
• The organization proves that it can handle change well, building confidence in itself for the next change.
Use change management processes when you have a goal in mind that those processes would aid in bringing into reality.
Change management lets you communicate fully to your employees why the change is necessary, what the benefits will be, and how it will impact the organization as a whole. Sharing this information with employees can help them buy-in to the change and support the leadership in taking the actions that are necessary to achieve the milestone goals of the change. It can help limit resistance, and help manage any resistance that does occur. This is even more the case when employees are given a role in determining the solutions to problems the change poses and are given reason and opportunity to personally commit to the change process.
Change management lets you fully communicate to your employees why the change is necessary, what the benefits will be, and how it will impact the organization as a whole.
Change management also allows those in leadership positions to lead by example. The leadership can model the change and communicate their commitment to the ‘new vision’ that the change represents. Using audience-focused communication styles, the leadership can target their communications so that they are addressing what each group of employees or stakeholders cares about. This will lead to increased momentum across the organization in moving towards the result that the change is intended to create.
As the change is successfully implemented, the employees, customers, and other stakeholders experience the process as painlessly as possible. The projects and results that were promised come to fruition. And seeing the change become real helps build the organization’s and individuals’ confidence that the organization can face future changes and do it well. This level of confidence will be particularly helpful should the organization ever face unexpected change.
On the other hand, consider what can happen if you don’t use a change management model or strategy. Not only to you risk not having the benefits expressed in Figure 1, but you may face additional problems. Some of the possibilities are listed in Figure 2.
• As people become more attentive to the change being introduced, productivity suffers.
• People become passively resistant.
• Passive resistance becomes active resistance and can sabotage the change.
• Good, skilled employees leave rather than deal with the uncertainty of change – costing the company a great deal to replace them.
• Employees stop caring about the state of the company – both its current and future states.
• Without uniform information, employees differ in their understanding about the change and the new company direction.
• Employees wonder why the change is happening.
• More employees begin to shirk their duties, take sick days, or just don’t come to work.
• People find ways to make the current way of doing things continue to work rather than implementing the new change.
• Employees find every reason to go back to the old way of doing things.
• Changes never get fully implemented.
• Changes that could have been meaningful and helpful are abandoned because there is no support for them across the organization.
• Employees without input into the change begin to think in ‘us’ and ‘them’ terms.
• Instead of building a record of success with change, the organization builds a record of failure.
• Many layers of risk exist – to the organization, to the leadership, to the project, and to the employees.
After reading the information in Figure 2, you could begin to see that change management is actually a form of risk management. It helps you to limit the chances that you will find the organization in a ‘worst case’ scenario and increases the overall chance for success in implementing change.