The concept of organizational change sometimes creates apprehension among middle management and employees because of a perception that it is simply another tool used by management to cut back. Much of this comes from a lack of transparency, honesty and integrity on behalf of those driving change.
This need not be the case. Many organizations successfully adopt change management and use it to convert their organization's focus in a positive and constructive manner. The key to success has, in most instances, been a considered approach with an emphasis on:
- Constructive involvement of all employees
- Effective methods of communication
While top management are in an excellent position to see the need for change as businesses adapt to a fast changing environment, employees deep down in the organization are generally unaware of the dynamics driving change. The question most often on their lips is: Why?
If employees don't understand the need for change, they will likely resist it, especially if they perceive a lack of transparency in the motives of top management. Consequently, a key factor in managing change is an ability to share the real reasons for transformation. This, together with an understanding of what the organization aims to achieve and the adoption of processes that allow employees to actively participate, helps ensure success.
Incremental or Major Change
The question often arises as to which is better, incremental change or major change. Change may be disruptive and many organizations avoid implementing it until it's inevitable. This is not the most productive tactic as implementing major alterations in how an enterprise works is more complex, risky and expensive than a process of continual incremental change.
The crucial issue is that it's important for organizations to continually adapt. And when continual, organized change becomes the norm, it's easier to create involvement and maintain interest, especially when employees are an integral part of change management.
Organizational Change Methodology
Change involves every element of how an organization operates, so change management processes need to be well understood and carefully planned, managed and organized. The range of skills required are such that few organizations, starting out, have the necessary expertise to bring it about. Initially, it makes sense to appoint consultants experienced in the process of initiating and managing change. At the same time, it's essential to bring these skills into the organization so that change management becomes internalized.
There are numerous methodologies available to manage change, and there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Rather, organizations should assess commercially available methodologies, and choose the best fit. Examples of such methodologies include:
- ADKAR® from Prosci: This methodology is based on five change milestones of awareness, a desire for change, knowledge, ability to change and change reinforcement.
- Kotter International 8-step Process: This method follows a similar pattern, but is broken into eight steps that start with creating a sense of urgency for change through to instituting change.
As strange as it may seem, many companies embark on change without a clear understanding of what they intend to achieve. Furthermore, according to Gartner, they jump straight into implementation without clarifying their vision or sharing it with affected employees. This quickly leads to cynicism and loss of trust.
Before embarking on a change management process, it's vital to create a clear and compelling vision of what the organization will be like after the change. Once conceived, this vision needs to be consistently communicated throughout the organization.
Communication of the vision is as important as the vision itself. Critical factors include:
- Methods of communication: These include face-to-face communication, interactive group meetings, posters and social media.
- Coordination: The same message must be communicated through different channels, and ideally all messages should originate from one source and be part of a coordinated communication plan.
- Version control: Because change takes time, message content, key dates and activities will evolve and care must be taken to manage content and control versions.
- Consistency: The message must be consistent to build trust and confidence.
- Feedback: Employee feedback must be actively sought, responded to and used to guide the change management processes.
A key factor in facilitating change in an organization is the use of peer advocacy. In its simplest form, peer advocacy is when someone who understands a concept, shares and explains this concept to a colleague. This form of communicating change is more effective than can be achieved using formal communication channels and other forms of mass presentation.
Benefits of this approach include an ability to reach employees at all levels of the organization, to understand how they actually feel and to use this feedback constructively. Peer advocates are employees who communicate well and who are respected by their peers. It's good practice to allow different employees to perform this role over a period of time.
Effectively Managing Change
Organizations that are effective at change management score handsomely. They are able to adapt to altering circumstances faster and benefit from transmuting market dynamics. However, the process of managing change is difficult and requires commitment throughout the organization. It's particularly important that the executive committee and the CEO are fully on board.
The process requires a high degree of transparency and honesty, along with a willingness to accept and respond to feedback. By starting early and initiating incremental change, an organization can develop and hone its change management skills and succeed where others have failed.