Change management is a structured approach, ensuring changes are smoothly implemented, disruption is minimised, and the benefits of the change are achieved. The focus is on people and how they move from the current situation to the new one. People have different attitudes to change, so react differently when faced with it. A good leader and manager must enable everyone to unlearn the culture, acquire new skills and methodologies, and let new leaders emerge. During any change performance will worsen before it improves, and you will discover how to manage this situation.
A cultural change in a company is still difficult to pull off. When a new CEO is appointed, they will often bring with them a new top management team who know their methods and are happy to work with them. For everyone else though this heralds a major shakeup.
An ingrained culture can be a liability, and a good leader and manager must enable change to allow everyone to unlearn the culture and acquire new skills and methodologies.
One of the challenges is to empower new people and let new leaders emerge. To lead in the rapidly changing world requires courage, perception, insight, motivation, emotional strength to manage themselves and others, the ability to evolve and delegate, and nurture new leaders. Effective executives need to be a leader and a team player, and have a willingness to welcome new developments.
So change management skills are now expected on every successful executive’s s CV.
What is Change management?
It’s a structured approach, ensuring that changes are smoothly implemented, minimising disruption, and making sure the benefits of the change are achieved. The focus is on the wider impacts of change, particularly on people and how they move from the current situation to the new one.
The change could be a simple process change, to major changes in structure such as will result from a merger or acquisition.
Understanding Change Management Theories about how organizations change touches on psychology and behavioural science, engineering and systems thinking. The underlying principle is that change does not happen in isolation but will impact the whole organization and the staff.
The tangible impacts of change must be considered but it is also important to consider the personal impact on those affected, and the changes in their behaviour and activities to support the change.
Many organizations and consultants subscribe to formal change management methodologies which provide toolkits, checklists and outline plans.
People have different attitudes to change, so react differently when faced with it. Some fear it, some thrive on it. Good management will involve all their staff in the planning and implementation of change, to allay the fears of the fearful and offer a challenge to the thrivers.
The chief insecurity of most staff is change itself. Senior managers and directors responsible for managing organizational change do not usually fear change – they often thrive on it and are in control of it and driving it. So remember that your staff may not relish change, but find it deeply disturbing and threatening, in part because they have no control over it.
If you force change on people, they resent and resist it and often problems will arise. So change needs to be understood and managed in a way that people can cope with effectively. Change can be unsettling, so the manager’s role is to be a reassuring, calming influence.
Change management involves thorough planning and careful implementation, and involvement of and consultation with, the people affected by the changes.
Management should ensure that people affected by the change understand and appreciate the need for change, have a chance to participate in how the change will be managed, and to be involved in the planning and implementation of the change. They should ideally have a clear vision of what life will be like after the change, and welcome the change.
Consider the likelihood of upsetting people whose jobs are threatened by proposed change and try to develop a way of anticipating and controlling problems. Treat people at risk with respect and avoid keeping them in the dark. It is best to involve threatened people wherever possible so they can see why what’s happening is necessary. Encourage senior management to take the same humane approach, and ensure counselling and support resources are available.
The more you understand people’s needs, the better you will manage change. Personality is a factor, not everyone welcomes change.
Age is another factor – people’s priorities and motivations are different depending on their stage of life.
Be aware of people’s strengths and weaknesses. Try to understand the people you are working with, how and why they feel as they do, before you implement changes.
During any change performance will worsen before it improves. A graph of performance over time will look like this.
So as the new processes are rolled out, or the changes take effect in whatever form, there will be an appreciable dip in effective performance. It is important everyone appreciates this and does not panic and turn back. As time moves on and everyone gains confidence in their new activities, effectiveness will lift and will eventually show improvement over the pre-change performance.
But everyone involved, at every level, needs to clearly appreciate that any major change will result in a dip in performance and morale, before improvements begin to be achieved.
Be realistic about the timeframe you need. Will the effects of taking longer to implement the changes be preferable to a problematic change? A short lead up to the change process prevents proper consultation and involvement, which in turn may lead to difficulties that take time to resolve and slow down the programme.
Involving and informing people about the programme creates opportunities for those concerned to participate in planning and implementing the changes. This can spread the load, allowing input from all areas, and creates a sense of ownership among the people affected.
For organizational change that involves new objectives and processes for a group or team of people, workshops are an effective, unthreatening way to achieve understanding, involvement, and commitment.
These principles are even more important when you are making sensitive changes like making people redundant, forcing closures and integrating merged or acquired organizations.
Senior managers need to be highly visible, not hiding behind briefing memos and leaving middle managers to deal with issues. Consulting with people, and helping them to understand, will strengthen management’s position. Otherwise management is perceived as weak, cowardly and lacking in integrity.
Responsibility for managing change lies with management and executives of the organisation. They must manage the change in a way that employees can cope with. Their perspective will be different from the employees’ perspective. Many will be cynical and suspicious of what the change will mean to them –more work, less job security, different hours or workplace?
Managers are crucial to the change process, they must be able to enable and facilitate, not just convey and implement policy from above. Management training must be undertaken first, ensuring they are on board with the programme, can develop and communicate empathy and understand how to facilitate change. They can then cascade the programme down to their staff.
People and teams need to be empowered to find their own solutions and responses to the changes, with facilitation and support from managers, and understanding and compassion from the leaders and executives. Management and leadership style and behaviour are the key to enabling employees to trust the organization.
For the manager to facilitate and enable change, they need to try to understand the situation from an objective standpoint, and help people understand the rationale and objectives, and to respond positively according to employees’ situations and capabilities. The manager’s role is to interpret, communicate and enable, not to order or impose change on the staff.
Organisational Change such as new structures and locations, mergers and acquisitions, and disposals, all create new systems and environments which need to be explained to people as early as possible, so their buy-in to validating and refining the changes can be secured.
Participation, involvement and open, early, communication are key factors. Often the people at the “sharp end “will have much more powerful ideas on how to restructure their job than management. It is good practice to provide an active forum for these ideas – team meetings, suggestion boxes, open discussion, email ideas and suggestions to manager.
Ideas put forward should be seen to be considered seriously . Perhaps invite the proposer to discuss with their manager, respond to emails, offer prizes for ideas accepted.
Staff surveys are a helpful way to keep communication open, especially if you allow people to complete them anonymously, and provided you publish and act on the findings.
It is best to use face-to-face communications to handle sensitive aspects of organisational change management Email and written briefings are extremely poor at conveying and developing understanding.
A written briefing can be used by managers to open a discussion on change, but the manager must be equipped to handle a discussion arising from the briefing, and answer questions, or at least take them away and get them answered promptly.
Lack of leadership transparency can arise because there is assumption by leadership that employees already know, aren’t interested, are incapable of understanding, or have no right to know.
Alternatively it can just be caused by thoughtless leadership, not even considering transparency to be an issue. Some leaders operate a policy of secrecy.
More commonly lack of transparency exists due to leadership negligence, fear or insecurity.
Leadership transparency has a huge influence on employee trust and openness towards the employer. If the leaders fails to inform and explain openly and fully to employees, employees will form their own ideas with the result that wrong perceptions, misinformation and rumours will spread. Ignorance and uncertainty make people feel threatened and vulnerable.
Transparency is a matter of leadership policy and style. Facts about an organization’s position, activities and decisions are made available to its employees and ideally also to its customers.
Many changes are difficult and cannot be avoided. Others will lead to improvement in performance, for example taking advantage of new technology.
Whether the changes will all be good, or not, it is important to be open and honest with people, and give them time to absorb and react. They will accept things more readily if they are involved and trusted and treated as adults.
They may well contribute helpful ideas and suggestions which the leadership might not have considered. It is important to involve as many people as possible at the earliest realistic stage. This allows the essential relationship and trust within the Psychological Contract to be retained undamaged.
It is important to manage expectations. Fear is often worse than reality. The bad news needs to be dealt with as well as the good news. If people anticipate problems they are equipped to deal with them.