The verdict is in, and it’s not good. Many organizational change initiatives fail to produce the desired results, leaving in their wake emptier coffers and a host of skeptical employees whose new action plans include waiting out the next change project because “this too, shall pass.”
Managers of thwarted change efforts often attribute lackluster results to such things as lack of support from senior management, organizational resistance to change, lack of organizational “fit,” and inadequate resources. While all of these are certainly major contributors to the demise of many large-scale change efforts, the most important reason is missing from this list.
Ready – Fire – Change Doesn’t Work
Instead of adequately preparing for and carefully managing the implementation of a major change, most organizations employ the “ready – fire – change” model as the prescribed course of action. They focus their energies and their budgets on such initiatives as restructuring, systems upgrades, business process improvement, among others, but devote inadequate thought and resources to how they are going to introduce, manage, and maintain the change throughout the organization.
Four Stages of Change Management
Instead, members of change teams need to understand the four stages of managing change:
Stage 1: Planning for Change
Stage 1 of change management involves determining whether or not your organization is truly ready for the change. After spending twenty plus years helping companies develop and implement change management initiatives, I suggest the following list of questions to help in that determination.
Is it clear what role senior management must play?
Most major change efforts have to be driven from the top of the organization. Are senior managers willing to continually convey the change message? Are they willing to support the change by using their own behavior as an example?
Is the appropriate change leadership in place?
Who will be the “operational leaders” of change for each target population? These are the individuals who will need to take an active role in driving the change in their respective areas. Unfortunately, these people are usually below the level of senior management and not adequately sold on the benefits of the change initiative. As a result, they can kill the change effort by keeping people focused on “other things.”
Are the members of the change management team ready?
Do they understand the four stages of organizational change? Are they the right people to orchestrate this change effort?
Are current organizational policies and management practices in line with the intended change?
Current accountability, feedback, and reinforcement systems must support and reward the new behaviors that are desired.
How much change will be required?
The change management team will have to determine whether or not the change represents a radical departure from the “way we do things now.” If so, then a great deal of thought will have to go into how current behavior will change, who will have to do the changing, and whether the organization is ready.
Has the change management team identified the possible barriers to the success of the change effort?
Have they developed plans for overcoming those barriers?
Is the change management team being realistic about how long change takes?
Many large-scale change efforts can take three to five years to implement. Smaller scale efforts take less time, but it can’t happen in a few weeks.
Stages 2-4: A Formula for Implementing, Managing and Maintaining Change
Once you have determined that your organization is ready for the proposed change, the change management team must develop a comprehensive plan for guiding the organization through stages 2, 3, and 4: Implementing, Managing, and Maintaining the change. Below is a list of items to include in your change management plan to ensure that the change is successfully integrated into the culture of your organization.
Specify behavioral outcomes
The change management team must clearly articulate what people must begin doing differently throughout the organization (from senior management down).
Develop an education plan
People need to understand why the organization is changing and they need to be “sold” on the benefits of the change (i.e., there’s a good reason why this is happening). A plan for introducing the change and explaining the reasons behind it is needed to affect employee buy-in to the change initiative.
Address job security issues
If the change has any implications for people losing their jobs, those issues need to be addressed in a direct and honest way. The organization must provide assurances that jobs will not be lost, or that people will be taken care of in the event of job loss if that is the case. One of my former clients, a large food manufacturer, asked employees in each functional area to “re-engineer” their work areas and to reduce staff by X%. This company painted a clear and realistic financial picture so everyone understood the need for change. They also demonstrated concern for the employees who would be laid off by creating “transition bridges” to help people find new jobs. As a result, the employees did as they were asked and made the right decisions on behalf of the organization.
Develop a communications plan
The change management team must determine which communications vehicles will be used to convey information and updates about the change effort. Communications need to be frequent, ongoing, and supported by senior management. Another client implemented a “One Company Working Together” campaign that resulted in the consolidation of its sales forces. Senior management was heavily involved at the beginning, promoting the restructuring throughout the organization. However, a year later, as senior management went on to pay attention to other matters, employees felt abandoned and were left wondering, “whatever happened to that ‘One Company’ thing”?
Develop a training plan
Training needs to take place wherever new skills will be required. The change management team should consider what should be done to ensure successful implementation and what ongoing training will be needed.
Customize implementation plans for each target area
The “one size fits all” mentality can send your change project into a downward spiral. A better strategy includes multiple implementation plans with approaches, strategies, and tactics specific to each department, school, or college affected by the change.
Implement in the best areas first
Phase the implementation plan, beginning with the areas in which the highest probability for success and the least resistance exist, if at all possible. These “pilot areas” will help the change team learn from its mistakes and help it develop alternative approaches for other areas. In addition, data, visibility, and positive attention to the change effort are usually generated, providing the change team with success stories to help convince the more skeptical parts of the organization.
Align systems/policies/practices with the new change
The change management team needs to carefully scrutinize all the formal and informal systems in the organization to assess the degree to which these systems will support or counteract the desired change. For instance, business plans and objectives may need to be revised. Other things to consider are: How will people be held accountable for changing their behavior? Are changes needed in the performance management system? Are compensation practices in line with the new behaviors?
Develop monitoring and tracking systems
The members of the change management team need to have their fingers on the pulse of what is and isn’t happening in order to intervene where appropriate. Monitoring and tracking options include:
- Collecting status reports from functional areas
- Conducting department visits so members of the change team can talk with people and make first-hand observations
- Conducting “How’s it Going” sessions with groups of managers and employees to diagnose problems and develop solutions
- Administering “How’s It Going” surveys to obtain feedback from a larger population
- Developing Performance Measurement Systems that include Key Performance Indicators for the change effort
Dedicate the appropriate change management resources
Members of the change management team serve as internal consultants. They must be selected for their knowledge of the organization and for their understanding of organizational change. They must also be competent, credible to the rest of the organization, and held accountable for the success of the change effort from Stage 1 through Stage 4.
Change is Inevitable
The one thing that management theorists agree on is that change is necessary for staying competitive. Organizations can learn to thrive on change by understanding it and “doing it right,” or they can treat change as a “bothersome project”. The choice shouldn’t be a difficult one, but it does require new thinking about change management…and that’s a change!