There may have been a time when organizations found security in stability and didn’t have to worry about reinventing themselves to stay competitive in the marketplace. In today’s increasingly global economy, however, companies who resist change often find themselves struggling to keep up with their competition. Technological innovations and revolutionary developments in communications have accelerated business plans and forced companies to rethink their strategies continuously.
While many organizations have proven adept at this new agile environment, others continue to struggle. More than 80% of employees believe their organizations need to change or grow, but many leaders are hesitant to implement necessary changes for fear of failure rather than embracing strategies for managing change that could help them confront those challenges on their own terms.
Here are a few ways that organizations can better prepare themselves to undertake much-needed change initiatives:
Set the Expectation for Change
There is no shortage of cliches about change. Most people have heard some variation of “change is inevitable” or “the only constant is change,” but simply repeating them over and over doesn’t make anyone ready to deal with change when it arrives.
Part of the problem is that employees, like anyone else, become accustomed to the status quo and are often not prepared for the potentially disruptive force of a change situation. They may have assumed their work would never change so long as they remained in the same position, that they would remain at the same desk sitting next to the same people and reporting to the same manager in perpetuity. When the status quo is upended, these people will likely feel blindsided, confused, and concerned about their futures. Addressing this discomfort is one of the most important keys to change management.
Organizations can avoid some of these issues by emphasizing the inevitability of change from the moment people are hired. For a company trying to position itself as dynamic and evolving, change is often the very thing that allows it to be competitive and innovative. By frequently articulating this strategy through meetings and official statements, organizations can create a work culture that embraces, or at least accepts, change, which can go a long way toward overcoming resistance. If employees are accustomed to frequent shake ups in workflow, reporting structure, or responsibilities, they will be more likely to adapt to truly significant shifts more effectively.
Empathize With Employees
Discussions of change often focus on the structural impacts, but change can be very unsettling for employees even if it’s a positive development. While it may seem like great news that a company is growing and must therefore move to a new building, that announcement may not be received well by an employee who has been working in the same place and making the same commute to work for several years. Employees naturally want to know how changes will affect them, and they’re likely to have concerns that may not be immediately obvious to leadership.
Rather than telling people how to think about change, organizations should present facts to explain why it’s happening, and then take a step back to allow employees work through their own reactions. Leadership must then make itself available to ask people for their thoughts and suggestions and answer questions and address concerns, which provides an opportunity to empathize with employees. When people feel like they can talk about how they’re feeling, it’s easier for them to work through those emotions and identify which concerns are supported by facts and which are based on emotions or assumptions. As a result, they’re more likely to buy in to change initiatives because they don’t feel like something new is being forced upon them unfairly and against their will.
Have a Process in Place
Change, as everyone likes to point out, is hard. Not only are changes difficult to implement throughout an organization, but they require a high level of commitment from both employees and leadership to be successful. While change initiatives are generally more successful than people assume, it’s easy for negativity bias to take hold when plans inevitably encounter difficulties and lose momentum. The resulting commitment dip can be disruptive and demoralizing, potentially derailing the entire strategy.
Organizations therefore need to make sure that change is never implemented haphazardly. Like any other business strategy, change management processes need to be thought out ahead of time and managed effectively. Realistic goals and deadlines need to be set, backed up by frequent and honest communication about potential problems and unexpected difficulties. It’s also important to ensure that each change initiative has adequate resources to support implementation and the achievement of the change goal.
While some degree of uncertainty is to be expected throughout any change process, employees are generally much more willing to tolerate uncertainty if they trust the process and people implementing the changes. Implementing effective change management practices is a critical factor in overcoming resistance.
Another underrated concern about change is how it can transform the culture of an organization. Leadership often waits too long to take culture into consideration or fails to think about how it might be affected by other changes. Organizational culture is not only an expression of values and beliefs, but also reflects the collective history of a company and the people who are a part of it. Shifting from being a small, private company to a larger corporation with shareholders and investors to consider can drastically transform the culture of a workplace. It may be easy to explain why a growing company needs to move into a new office space from a business standpoint, but it’s important to consider how that change will affect the people working there.
But cultural changes aren’t only caused by growth. With customer experience becoming an important differentiator for today’s consumers, many companies are adopting a more customer service oriented approach to their business. For some of these companies, this represents a major shift in focus, and not everyone within the organization will be comfortable with changes that could fundamentally alter what it’s like to work for that company.
One of the most important strategies for managing change, then, is to keep in mind how organizational culture is impacted by change initiatives. By identifying these connections, companies can better anticipate potential problems and take efforts to implement changes as smoothly as possible without compromising the cultural values of their organization.
In today’s fast moving economy, changes are coming to organizations a variety of forms. Proactive companies will be in a position to adapt to changes, often taking steps to anticipate their future needs and making adjustments to their operations on their own terms. Companies that put off implementing changes out of fear of failure or negative bias are likely to find themselves affected by circumstances beyond their control that can have far more damaging effects on their business. When it comes to strategies for managing change, preparation and being proactive are the keys to success.