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Leading Change: The New Management Imperative

By Debra Zabloudil, FACHE, CAE

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less” said General Eric Shinseki. General Shinseki’s words remind us that change is no longer an option. It is a necessary part of today’s fast-paced environment. The speed of change impacts our work each and every day.

Sometimes the thought of change feels overwhelming; for some it serves as a catalyst for long-needed change, and other times it creates a paralysis that can stop organizations and projects dead in their tracks.

So how do we handle the change that is happening around us? First, by understanding the nature of change a bit more. We must remember that:

• Change is the norm
• Change happens more quickly than before
• Change is difficult
• Even those who like change, prefer change that is their own decision

In many cases, those of us (myself included) that do enjoy a change of pace, process or scenery from time to time truly only really like that change if we are the ones driving it. It is much more difficult to appreciate and embrace change brought on by others. Consequently, this is a rich topic – – – for leaders, for managers and for staff. Change is ever-present, but complex, and has many nuances, both subtle and overt, that impact everyone in the workplace and the way they operate.

New Ideas Require Change

New ideas are typically viewed something positive in the workplace. Most of us would probably agree that new ideas in a company help to fuel innovation and to maintain a competitive advantage. In order to truly embrace new ideas, though, we must also embrace change. New ideas require change – – to the way we think, act, operate and lead and manage.

The Change Process

There are many ways to handle and process organizational change. The following steps, customized to your own organization and culture, can help you get started.

1. Proactively Watching External Environments

Watching the environment is critical. We cannot simply have our heads down churning out work. We must work on our business and not just in our business.
Consequently there are two important things that must happen in assessing the internal and external environment. The first is, having a regular practice of deliberately assessing the external environment to assess oncoming change. The second is, discussing that change internally.

Only when we make a practice of watching the world around us and drawing connections from external changes (economic, global, political, and others) to our businesses, will we be ahead of the change coming, rather than caught surprised. Additionally, we must socialize this idea within our companies. Change should be a topic of discussion on meeting agendas, to allow everyone to be part of the change conversation.

2. Determining What Should Change

It is not enough to know that we should change, but determining what it is that needs to change is critical. Further, we have to be able to make a case for the “what” and how that change will put the company in a more advantageous position.

Consider the following:

• Does the change support the company’s vision, mission or strategic objectives?
• Will the change improve customer service or satisfaction?
• Will the change provide the company an advantage over its competitors?
• Will the change improve the quality of the company’s products or services?
• Will the change create a better work environment?
• Will the change increase revenue or decrease expense?
• Will the change improve our public image?
• Will the change create an opportunity for the company to stand out in the marketplace?

These are just a few questions to get you started. The important point here is that you run your idea through some rigor before moving forward.

3. Selling the Idea Internally

With any new idea or organizational change, there will be supporters and detractors. The greater the number of supporters, the better chance the change will be successful. Note: this is true whether you are a line employee or the CEO. The more staff members that are behind the new idea, the fewer detractors you will have, and the better possibility change will be embraced and executed successfully.

Questions to anticipate as you are selling the idea internally:

• Why are we doing this change?
• How is this going to affect me?
• What happens if I/we don’t make the change?

Key components of selling the idea are:

• Making the case for the change – – explaining why it is necessary and communicating those benefits widely throughout the organization
• Painting the vision for the future state without the change
• Helping everyone understand the goal of the change
• Communicating frequently even if you don’t have all the answers
• Remember that communication is a process, not a one-time event

4. Formulating a Plan for Change

You should now be far enough down the process to be ready to create a strong plan that will help your team realize the change.

The plan should include:

• Measurable goals
• Who is responsible for each piece of the plan
• Deliverable dates
• Check-in dates
• Interim measurement and report-out dates
• Final measurements and metrics to determine success

One of the best ways to formulate a plan for change is to get those involved in the change involved in developing the plan. This all-important buy-in will help the team execute the plan and see success. Think about key talents needed on the team, and try to construct the team with people who can fill the roles with the right skills, talents and passion for the project.

5. Overcoming Resistance to Change

One the plan is developed and communicated, the full team will start to weigh in on perceptions of the plan, whether they feel it’s realistic and how they might make changes. Other team members may recommend improvements to the plan – – – be prepared to hear them! This phase of the plan is to hear people out, and make final revisions to the plan

Irrespective of how accommodating you are in listening to others, there will be those who are going to resist change, as noted below.

Employees Most Likely To Resist Change:

• Those who are not aware of the need for change;
• Those highly invested in the current way of doing their work;
• Those who helped create the current way;
• Those who expect more work as a result
• Those who advocated a particular alternative;

Remember, change can be daunting to many in the organization. For all the reasons noted above, people fear the “new way” will leave them behind. Communication and mindful listening will be key in helping staff members overcome fear and resistance.

You will also have another group of employees, those who are in favor of the change. Why is this group different?

• They are aware of why the change is being made
• They were involved in the change process
• They believe the change is the right thing to do
• They may see personal and organizational current pain or future gain
• They respect, and believe in, the individual leading the effort

These individuals are your champions, which all change efforts need. These individuals can help pull detractors over to the side of embracing change. Leverage these individuals to help you communicate and celebrate successes along the way.

6. Implementation of Change

Implementing change can be challenging. Anyone who has ever been part of an IT implementation process can probably attest to the many unexpected twists, turns and stressors along the way. Expect things to go wrong in the implementation of change. Why? Because “we don’t know what we don’t know” and we will learn things along the way. The change may have taken longer than anticipated, we may have not had the right complement of talent and temperament on the team or we might find that current skills and abilities of employees are not adequate.

Bumps in the road do not define the success of the project. The reason we measure and evaluate frequently is to allow us to make course changes when needed.

7. Measurement and Evaluation of Change

Finally, we must evaluate our change efforts. There is no good process for anything without measurement and evaluation. Of course in our planning phase we laid out what will deem the change process successful, and now it is time to check our progress against stated goals.

If you were successful in your progress, this is time to help your team celebrate its success. If you were not as successful, it is time to reflect, learn and most importantly move forward with new knowledge in hand!