Organizational change involves much more than altering a few C-level job titles or embarking on a short-term cultural initiative. As many businesses realize, once the change process begins a genuine shift must originate at the top, be well-planned, and its purpose communicated repeatedly and embraced at all levels in order to succeed.
More specifically, those charged with planning and implementing wide-scale change should understand that, chances are, the process will take longer and involve more expense than anticipated. This may be particularly true if organizational culture is fragmented, poorly led and/or suffering from a lack of employee engagement.
Getting the team on board
One key challenge in the change process is motivating supervisors and employees who have been through the “change treadmill” before.
In these situations, people lack motivation “when they believe the latest ‘new initiative’ being preached from above is going to die just like the last one—no matter what they do,” notes Brent Gleeson, motivational leadership speaker. Change is scary, affecting employees’ capability to get behind a proposed initiative. “This can be a big distraction that undermines the team’s ability to focus and stay productive,” Gleeson adds, just at a time “when you need them more focused than ever.”
Tips for Managing Organizational Change
None of this means effective organizational change is impossible. On the contrary, with a determined effort, a CEO or business leader can propel change throughout the organization and position the business for a stronger and more strategic future.
Here are five tips to keep in mind as you contemplate organizational change:
1. Make your case.
Change is difficult to achieve if you don’t get buy-in from all stakeholders involved, whether they be investors, senior staff, employees, customers, etc. Obviously, these different constituencies should be addressed in an appropriate manner, but before that occurs, CEOs and business leaders must make a strong business case for the proposed change. Focus on how change will:
- Create new opportunities
- Address threats from competitors
- Acquire new customers
- Streamline costly operations
- Boost brand awareness
- Strengthen the workforce
Crafted in specific language, the business case for change will win more converts than an ambiguous “vision” of the future.
2. Communicate (and communicate some more!).
Change efforts often collapse from a lack of effective communication. It’s not enough to state your case one time and then forget about it. Ongoing, meaningful communication is essential to driving change. Without a structured schedule for sharing information, rumors will fill the void and damage future efforts.
Communication (through email, public statements, blog posts, etc.) should emphasize the planned benefits of change, while being honest about the effects of the process. Continuous updates will also help build a sense of employee involvement.
“When employees feel involved, they’re more invested in and supportive of the effort—and less likely to offer resistance,” writes Nick Candito in Forbes. In your communications, stress that “everyone has a role to play in successfully implementing the changes and the overall transformation.”
3. Be clear in your expectations.
Change is most unsettling when executives and employees don’t understand their role in implementing a new strategy. It’s vitally important to ensure that your team is clear on what actions are expected of them, the frequency of those actions, and how the landscape will look after the actions are taken.
If a plan for change is articulated but key elements of the old culture remain, people will be naturally confused about what’s happening. In these cases, you haven’t truly set change in motion. A strategy for change that’s not implemented is only a dream.
4. Plot out change in phases and celebrate milestones.
Change doesn’t happen overnight; it’s the result of multiple phases of carefully planned and executed steps. A well-crafted strategy encompasses a discrete beginning, middle and end, usually consisting of numerous transitional phases. As long as people understand the structure of change, they will be less resistant to any ripple effects.
There are numerous ways to celebrate achievements along the way. For example, you can highlight a specific department’s successful efforts to implement the planned changes. Or you can recognize and reward an individual employee (or team) that seizes the initiative and takes implementation a significant step forward.
These recognition efforts alert all employees that you are serious about effecting change and sincere about rewarding those who climb enthusiastically on board.
5. Invite feedback during and after the change process.
Whether your key stakeholders are internal or external, you can learn a lot by soliciting their feedback throughout the process—and after change has been fully implemented. Take advantage of all-staff meetings, online employee surveys, customer forums—whatever venue most effectively generates constructive feedback. Ask questions like:
- What worked with our communications efforts?
- Where did those communications fall short?
- Who felt engaged in the change process and who felt left out?
- What can we do differently the next time?
Each organizational change initiative is a learning process. The more you understand about the strengths and shortcomings of the process, the more effective change will be the next time around (and there’s almost always a next time).
Beyond these critical steps, CEOs and business owners should understand that there are smart risk and there are foolish risks. Every leader knows that nothing is ever guaranteed, but by asking the right questions and objectively assessing marketplace conditions, you increase the changes that you’ll move the business forward. It’s essential to act decisively while conditions are in flux and competitors are uncertain about their own next moves.
Change is constant. By keeping pace with it, you tilt the odds in favor business success.