Change management: Can’t jump over it, can’t crawl under it but you can conquer it
Change can be an odd concept for many of us – perhaps because it requires us to ignore the ‘stranger danger’ warning that’s an ingrained part of our psyche. Yet, with many organisations across Australia and New Zealand operating in a more Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world, change has become essential to business survival. Leaders across every line of business need to manage constant change and in a rapid manner – or they significantly reduce the competitiveness of their organisation. Recent research from the Economist Intelligence Unit and ADP revealed that change management even impacts finance leaders and their counterparts in management. It appears that no area of business is immune to change.
Managing change can be challenging and to date there’s no confirmed path to success. A quick search of the internet reveals 402,000,000 articles, journals and books on the topic. The change consultancy business is a billion dollar growth industry and it’s estimated that a new book or article is written about change every couple of hours – each purporting to offer ‘new’ insight! Never in the history of organisations has so much been written about a topic, with (ironically) so little understood about success. The ‘Theory – Practice/ Knowing – Doing’ gap is enormous.
So how do we begin to make sense of it all? Based on my experience, it is possible to successfully prepare for and manage change – and here are the top seven lessons I’ve learnt, along the way.
1. Unicorns roam with the perfect change management model. A colleague with many years of experience shared this candid feedback: “All change management models are wrong at some time, some models are just more useful.” The trick is to find the right model or framework for your culture and change situation. Avoid the temptation to wing it or to rush into the first model that you come across. The organisational change landscape is filled with lonely heroes doggedly holding onto an inappropriate change management model/ framework.
2. Be wary of a change management framework that leaves the essentials uncovered. In choosing a model or framework for your change initiative, make sure that it covers the change process from end to end. A good model covers the pre-change phase, creating a sense of urgency; the transition process and embedding the change. A good example is William Bridge’s 4 Ps – Purpose, Picture, Plan and Part – this model presents a complete approach to the four key stages. Another useful tip to keep in mind is that the 4 Ps is not something you do to people but rather something you do with Purpose relates to reasons why the change is occurring, Picture of success is the where you are going, Plan is how you get there and Part is what role each member plays. Importantly this approach is not a linear process.
3. Yesterday’s news is fish and chip paper. Don’t wait for feedback, give your team opportunities to share comments and criticisms in real-time. Remember your project team members or early adopters can sometimes filter feedback so relying on what information they provide may give you an incomplete story. Get close to the source and remember there is utility in change management resistance.
4. Make agility your mantra. Stay the course but don’t be afraid to adjust your change management tools or milestones so that you can use the feedback you gather create better your outcomes.
5. Change is built on honesty and trust. Be honest with all your responses – integrity is everything. Celebrate the wins and don’t be afraid to call out any challenges. If done respectfully, overcoming these challenges can create a real opportunity to build trust within a team. Be open about the challenges and involve people in solutions. It’s also best to do this from the start, rather than waiting for a tough change management challenge to push you to do this.
6. Emotional intelligence can’t be faked. According to a McKinsey survey, just 26% of respondents say the transformations they’re most familiar with have been very or completely successful at both improving performance and equipping the organisation to sustain improvements over time. Despite your best intentions and effort, over 70% of change initiatives will not proceed as planned. Check your ego and be conscious of your behaviour and responses when this occurs. Remember to always model the positive behaviour you want so that you continue to strengthen relationships within your business and successfully work through your next change management challenge.
7. After action reviews are treasure troves – Put in place checkpoints to learn from each milestone. Involve key stakeholders in the process. This creates a culture of change and also provides invaluable lessons learnt for the next change initiative. Remember change fatigue, poorly executed implementation of change initiatives and no buy-in leads to change resistance. Experience has shown that resistance to change is not intrinsically bad. If we are open to the feedback and explore the nature of the resistance to the change, we are often rewarded with valuable insights into how people are experiencing the change.
Many change leaders simply assume that everyone else understands the nature and urgency of the required change – and shares the same levels of enthusiasm to get the change completed. This has a direct impact upon the transition period and sustainability of the change initiative. Remember while each employee may take a different path and travel at varying speeds, with the right planning, guidance and collaboration – we can all reach the same change destination by the anointed hour.
Written by: Lawrence Cupido