Despite the amount of time and money that’s been invested in educating organizations and training leaders in the tools and skills to manage change, results have been uneven at best. OnPoint Consulting’s Execution Gap Survey of 935 leaders found that although successful change management is a key predictor of an organization’s ability to engage employees and effectively execute its strategy, 41 percent of leaders surveyed believe their organizations do not have a good track record when it comes to managing change. Perhaps more importantly, 42 percent of them also report that senior leaders in their companies do not manage change effectively.Are Employees Actually Resistant to Change?
When a change initiative fails in some way, organizations and leaders are often quick to blame employee resistance. There are, of course, situations in which negativity bias and commitment dip undermine the change process, but conventional wisdom tends to ascribe change management failures to three specific factors:
- Employees don’t recognize the necessity of change.
- Most employees generally fear change and prefer the status quo.
- Change happens too quickly to be easily accommodated.
However, OnPoint’s research on change debunks all three of these widely accepted beliefs. In fact, far from being hostile to change, the majority of employees actually view change positively.
- 85 percent of employees believe that their organizations must continue to change to grow and win in their respective industries.
- 75 percent report that they are comfortable with change and 83 percent believe a person can overcome his or her fears and get on board with a change.
- 41 percent of employees believe that the pace of change in their organizations is “just right,” while 36 percent believe the pace of change is too slow.
In other words, the poor track record many organizations have in managing change cannot be attributed to inflexible employees who prefer to maintain the status quo or who don’t believe change is necessary for the continued growth and success of their organizations. Nor can the difficulties be attributed to the pace of change.
8 Tips to Managing Change Successfully
So, what should leaders be doing to ensure change is effectively managed? OnPoint’s research has identified several ways in which successful leaders and organizations prepare for and implement change initiatives more effectively and consistently while their less successful competitors consistently struggle when it comes to managing change.
1. Involve Leadership at All Levels
Successful change management starts at the top with a leadership team committed to the strategy. This commitment must go beyond senior leadership since lower-level leaders and managers will often be responsible for executing a change strategy. That means that leaders at all levels must be involved and aligned right from the start, before any changes are implemented. Their concerns and questions should be addressed before rolling out the change to the rest of the organization.
2. Promote Accountability
Implementing any significant change is a team effort that requires everyone to play a specific role. People will be more likely to support and accept changes when they can see that everyone is committed to their responsibilities under the new system. This means that organizations need to hold everyone accountable for behaviors that support the change. Don’t allow managers to revert to “old” behaviors or follow a set of “rules” that only apply to them.
3. Communicate Frequently
Employees are more receptive to change efforts when they feel their needs and concerns are being heard and addressed honestly. By answering critical questions and clarifying expectations before the change initiative is underway, leadership can build commitment and support more effectively. It’s also important to continue frequent and honest communication for the duration of the change. Don’t assume that once people are on board they will not reevaluate their commitment periodically.
4. Highlight Success
The process of change is often long and difficult. It’s easy to focus on the progress that still needs to be made while ignoring everything that goes right, which can contribute to negativity and commitment dip. Be sure to celebrate successes and communicate the benefits of a change. Don’t take momentum for granted and assume people will maintain high levels of morale and performance over time.
5. Set Achievable Goals
Change presents exciting possibilities and organizations can easily fall into the trap of becoming too ambitious and getting in over their heads. Be realistic about what can be accomplished in the time available. Setting realistic goals and milestones can help to avoid overpromising to stakeholders and over-committing resources.
6. Develop a Process (and Stick to It)
Implementing change is difficult, but doing so in an incremental and opportunistic fashion is a recipe for disaster. Change management processes and procedures need to be formulated before implementation to ensure that everyone knows how to address unexpected problems and manage resources in ways that support critical change goals. Having these processes in place provides a measure of stability during a period of disruption.
7. Reassess Progress
Sometimes the initial plan for change will fail to take some issues into account. By frequently revisit and revise the plan throughout the change management process, many of these issues will become apparent. Don’t put the plan on “automatic pilot.” Progress should never be taken for granted and unforeseen problems may require adjustments to the plan.
8. Stay Focused
Many issues and distractions will arise during a change initiative. While these challenges need to be addressed, allowing them to pull attention and resources away from major change goals can endanger the entire process. Maintain focus on change objectives and expected outcomes. Don’t let “squeaky wheels” or “new” challenges distract your attention or decrease your commitment.
Most leaders would agree that change is ubiquitous and successful change management is required in order to achieve results. By focusing on these eight key factors for managing change, leaders can secure organizational commitment and increase the likelihood that a change initiative will accomplish its goals.