Part One: Planning for Change makes it Easier!
No company keeps all of its processes the same year after year. In fact, that’s a recipe for bankruptcy. Businesses are a moving target, and hitting the mark requires quick thinking. The marketplace forever changes as technology becomes available, as discovery brings more understanding, and as new buyer motivations replace older ones. The sheer nature of supply and demand guarantees that all companies encounter times of change.
That’s why change management is so important. Change management is a company’s ability to plan for, address, and facilitate change throughout the organization’s lifecycle. And how a company approaches change management has a huge impact on how well it can compete over the long term. Poor handling of change, whether in initiation or response, can create a ripple of problems in terms of its workforce, product quality, revenue, and even public perception. But companies that manage internal change like champions can likely pull away from their competitors each time business circumstances call for more retooling.
Our team often gets called in to help companies undergoing a variety of changes, and over our 10 years of experience consulting and teaching change management to leaders, we’ve observed that there are really only two challenges that cause the majority of the failed change processes: Lack of Planning and Lack of Skill Set. We address the lack of planning in this first article of a two-part series on change management.
Prioritize Your Change Management Plan
Some company leaders get stuck reacting to change because planning for it hasn’t ever been a priority for them. All the time and effort goes to what’s demanding immediate attention, which can involve progressive moves like capturing market share or driving innovation. But leaders of companies without a change management plan can get blindsided by change when it shows up, and suffer greater setbacks. Because they’re so buried in the front end momentum, they don’t have a planned response prepared, and likely never saw the change coming.
Leaders who are especially visionary hate to plan for the worst because they think it equates to expecting the worst. While you never want to assume that a person or organization will fail, planning for possible future scenarios, positive or negative, can save time, panic and stress as the future unfolds. It can be an extremely positive thing to avoid waste and setbacks caused by poor planning.
Make it a priority to formulate a thorough change management plan to ensure that inevitable changing landscapes in your business are met with activities and processes that help you to minimize negative impact and capitalize on opportunities.
Change Management Plan Criteria
Although each change management plan varies to suit the unique needs and culture of the organization, here are our recommended steps to include in your plan.
#1. Craft an emotionally driven narrative.
We can look at change management from the organizational level and the individual level. It takes an approach that blends the two vantage points to truly create a positive and lasting effect. At the organizational level, change involves mobilizing new processes in workforce groups, which can include leadership roles, project teams, departments, or even people in various workplace demographics. (Entire change strategies have been created to address “how to work well with millennials.”)
Individuals make up each of these groups, and each individual can choose to comply, reject, or embrace the new processes presented to them. At the individual level, employees involved in any change effort are being asked to break with their current methods of working to do things differently in support of a new result. As your workforce absorbs the impact of change, they may feel some discomfort. For example, the change may mean they’ll need to learn new skills or adopt a new routine that might not carry the same convenience. To power through their initial discomfort, employees need to believe the new methods will have benefits directly tied to what’s important to them.
Your reason for the change will drive every individual and every collaborative effort, so it’s critical that you be able to communicate the “why” about the change taking place in a way that resonates with all individuals and teams involved in the change effort. Make sure that in your explanation you’re able to show employees specific examples of how the change benefits them in addition to supporting the Company’s mission.
#2. Identify all the preliminary actions and guidelines.
In this stage, it helps to draw from as much data and input as you can get your hands on. An understanding of the current environment including operations, relationships, and workforce demands will help your plan components to effectively govern the change actions. Your plan should include:
1) change roles, governance and decision making
2) stakeholder engagement strategy and communications
3) timeline, resources and capacity
4) key initiatives and how to integrate them for maximum speed and efficiency
#3. Designate resources. Don’t skimp on the resources needed to carry your change initiatives to full execution. For change to last, it has to be implemented, tested, refined, and reinforced. It takes longer and costs more than many change leaders may realize. If you don’t plan and provide adequate support for the latter phases of change, you’re cutting your results short.
While it’s understood that change comes in many varieties, your process for handling change can actually be pretty steady and provide the stability you need to carry out initiatives with certainty. A well-vetted change management process serves current change strategies and those that might lie in the distant future.
A new business strategy is different than the change process. Once the Company’s new strategy is formed, simply focus on superbly executing the process of change management, which will improve each time you do it.