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This article was published 8/9/2018 (663 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I’ve been in the human-resource and management consulting business a long time, and as I look over the changes that have occurred in our world, I can only say it seems the business world is like the shifting sand in a desert — it’s always changing. You always feel like you are catching up. In fact, it can probably be said that change is the new normal.
Yet, it is also well known that the majority of large-scale, planned-change projects fail. This may be because they are treated as "one-off" programs, rather than deliberate plans to integrate the change more effectively within current systems and processes. On the other hand, change often falls apart when management fails to provide sufficient supports when a change project eliminates current systems. According to one research study by the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, most change initiatives fail because they lack the acceptance and support of employees.
And there’s the rub. We have to accept that change management is far more than simply a project. Change management affects policies and procedures, systems, protocols, tools and resources, and it significantly affects people and the employment culture. In other words, change is complex, it’s all-encompassing and requires significant planning and the application of a variety of skills at different times during the change cycle.
Once you realize how all-encompassing change management is, it’s easy to recognize that change leadership must become part of everything that management does, every single day. And, in order to accomplish this, leaders must ensure change management is a key part of any management training.
So, just what are these change-management skills? Here are some of the various elements of change management skills:
Understanding the change cycle: Change management can be considered a five-step process. The first step is a review of the current state of affairs and to make a decision as to the "why" of change. In other words, the drivers of change. The next step is to define what the future state will look like. The third step in the change cycle — and perhaps the most challenging — is getting all the people on side, from management to the front-line staff. This requires considerable communication, staff meetings and communiqués, and the ability to sell the idea of what the future will look like. The fourth step is to understand and plan for the processes and technology required to make change happen. Finally, step five is to implement, monitor, realign, readjust and continue to work hard to gain employee support.
Assessing change readiness: Employee resistance is the most common reason for the failure of change initiatives, so it is important to understand employee readiness, what resistance looks like and how to handle it. Resistance can be overt or covert and be organized by several staff and/or by an individual. It can consist of cynicism, anger, low morale and/or personal lethargy. No matter what, resistance represents conflict and requires skills in negotiation, mediation, collaboration and communication.
Understanding organization culture: Every organization has a cultural operating system, or in other words, "the way we do things around here." This represents organizational values and beliefs, personal work habits and established processes that have become institutionalized and serve to reinforce each other. Changing culture requires strong leadership skills, such as the ability to create and communicate a vision, to tell a compelling story of what could be and to influence others.
Strategic planning: That old saying that if you don’t have a goal then any road will take you there, certainly rings true for change management. Leaders need to be able to envision where they want to go and develop a comprehensive plan to get there. At the same time, the plan must be flexible and be realigned as needed. Thus, skills in strategic and project planning are a must.
Creating a team approach: Organizational change is not something you can do by yourself. You need teamwork. At the same time, a leader must be able to assess individual team skills and assign them to roles in which they will excel, which means developing skills in team leadership and the team-building cycle.
Communication strategies: Communication is a key strategy for the successful implementation of change. Leaders must be able to communicate their change initiative using a story-telling perspective, so they can inspire employees and encourage their participation and support. Communication is essential for motivating and engaging employees on an ongoing basis.
Listening: Change management requires more than leaders communicating out to their employees. In fact, listening is more important than talking. Get out into your organization and learn what your employees are saying. What are their challenges? Will your change-management initiative increase their productivity and overcome their challenges? Your front-line workers know what change is needed; ask them. Engage employees in planning where you can.
Recognize the politics: Every organization is political, and politics will really come to the fore when a change initiative is announced. People will try to protect their turf and protect their own agenda, while some people will feel they are a winner versus others who will perceive they have lost something. Leaders need to be politically astute, anticipate where challenges will arise and deal with them. Negotiation, collaboration and mediation are key skills required for effective political leadership.
Making hard decisions: At some point, leaders will have to make some tough decisions, particularly as it relates to employees. They need to be able to assess where people are at in terms of their adaptation to change. They need to determine if one or more of their employees no longer fit with the direction the organization is heading. These are always hard decisions, but a leader must keep their focus on the implementation of change.
Apply your management tools: While employees are key to success, so, too, are the processes, tools, measurements, control systems, incentives, staff training and policies that you need to apply to make things happen. Know your tools along with when to apply them effectively.
Review and renew: Change implementation is all about perseverance, review, followup and renewal, so that the momentum of a change-management implementation is continued. Take time to celebrate little successes. But, no matter what, keep the image of the future state front and centre in people’s minds. The life of a business leader is extremely busy, but if you don’t continually follow up, the change initiative may wither on the vine. At the same time, avoid letting the bumps in the road get you down. Persevere by focusing on the end result.
No matter which way you look at it, managing change is complex and requires leaders to have multiple skills for planning and implementation.
Source: The Change Management Life Cycle: Involve Your People to Ensure Success, Jonathan Gilbert, BA times, April 14, 2009.
Barbara J. Bowes, FCPHR, CMC, CCP, M.Ed., is president of Legacy Bowes Group, the author of eight books, a radio personality, speaker, an executive coach and workshop leader. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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