Change is never easy. People get into routines, they enjoy the place they work in and the people they work with. That’s all-natural, and it’s mostly good for business. But sometimes change is necessary. Business processes ossify in ways that aren’t compatible with changes in scale or the scope of new work that might be vital for growth. People outgrow their roles. Companies outgrow their workplaces or even their leadership. With enough success, any and all of these become inevitable.
When they do happen, you need to be ready. The process of preparing, supporting, and helping individuals, teams, and organizations to make the transition from the way things are done, to the way they should be done, is never simple. Good change management is essential to ensure that changes are implemented smoothly and successfully without causing disruption to the organization’s operations, employee morale, or customer satisfaction.
This entails a range of activities that help organizations and the people that make them up weather that change. The most important aspects of change management are planning, communication, education, training, and stakeholder engagement.
Change begins with planning. This initially involves identifying the need for change, defining the scope of the change, and developing a plan to implement the change. Planning also involves identifying the resources that will be required to implement the change, including people, money, and of course plenty of time. The planning process should include a thorough risk assessment to identify potential pitfalls associated with the proposed change, and contingency plans to minimize those risks – if it hits the fan, at least you’ll be holding an umbrella.
Communication might be the most critical component of change management, especially if you want to keep your core contributors. Effective communication is essential to ensure that everyone involved understands the need for the change you’re making, the benefits you’re working towards together, and what is expected of them during the change process. Communication should be clear, concise, and tailored to the needs of each stakeholder. Communication should be ongoing throughout the change process to keep everyone informed and engaged. Low quality or lack of communication is the best way to ensure things go south, and that you lose the people you need to keep things rolling.
Education is critical. You need to provide everyone with the knowledge and skills they need to support the change – and that means you need to know what they are. Education can include training, workshops, and other learning opportunities, but it’s not just for employees. Leadership needs to be prepared, not only to implement the proposed changes concretely but to help prepare everyone they are responsible for and help them through the process.
But it doesn’t end at informing your people – they have to get their hands dirty. Just like with a change management postgraduate, hands-on training in any and every expected aspect of change is going to ensure that people not only feel ready but that they are actually equipped with the skills they need to survive the change that’s expected of them. If your whole organization is doing business with a new set of tools, they’re going to need to be prepared and informed, but they’ll also need guided hands-on time with those tools to acquire the skills they need to use them.
Depending on the structure of your business, Identifying and preparing stakeholders outside of your employee base might be just as important as helping your employees adjust. If you aren’t profitable and depend on outside investment, you need to be sure that your investors are prepared for these changes, too – after all, it’s their money you’re betting on this new overhaul. Investors need to be engaged during major changes, or you may lose their support.
Making It Work
Resistance to change is common, and almost unavoidable. It can represent a significant barrier to the success of whatever change you need to implement – or even your business. As a rule, most people don’t like change, especially in the workplace. Adjusting to a new job is one of the most stressful things we do, and sometimes, when major changes happen at work, it can almost feel like adjusting to a new job, especially if the change is something that impacts daily work: office location, the systems used for daily work, or leadership are all things that can change that might dramatically affect someone’s experience of their daily work life.
The most important aspect of managing a big change is ensuring that everyone stays engaged, and feels included and supported. Sometimes your top contributors will be the people who have the hardest time coping with change – like a finely tuned race car, high performers often need things to be a certain way to do their best work. Listen to them. Hear them out. Sometimes concessions need to be made. After all, employees aren’t the only people who need to be flexible during a major change – at the end of the day, it falls on the shoulders of company leadership to ensure that things run smoothly.