Change is one of the things organizations cannot avoid. It happens on a daily basis, every hour, every minute and sometimes in the split of a second. Organizations who want to succeed must learn, and very fast too, how best to respond and adapt to changes as they happen. Smart organizations must also anticipate change and be prepared for it rather than allow it take them by surprise.
Changes happen to organizations in various forms; it could come in form of organizational initiative or from the external business environment by way of government policy regulations, technology, market driven developments etc. Regardless of what the drivers are, these changes need to be managed professionally to the advantage of the organization. Managing these changes successfully is where many organizations fail woefully.
A number of factors account for why organizations fail. One major reason is the neglect of a key element in the change management process which is PEOPLE. It is people that drive change. Change no matter how well thought out will be doomed to fail if the people element is left out of the change management process.
Due to lack of experience in change management, changes that are critical to organizational successes are often poorly managed to the detriment of the organization by her managers. A lot of managers see change as something you stamp on people without any deliberate strategy; amazingly and also quite erroneously, they believe all that is required of a boss is merely the duty to enforce compliance. No wonder the consequences of such poorly managed changes usually result in failures.
The first step in any change management process should begin with an evaluation of its desirability. The desirability question must be answered first before any further step towards implementing change. Some organization leaders would rather erroneously start the implementation before they come down to asking this question if at all. Once they satisfy themselves it is working elsewhere, the next thing is to whimsically stamp it on their employees and like magic, expect it to work. This is a very wrong approach indeed.
Even when the desirability question has been successfully taken care of, the readiness assessment also needs to consider the size of the change required, who will be affected, what impact it will have on the affected group, how will they likely respond to the changes, etc. These questions are important because of some employees’ natural disposition to want to avoid and resist change; especially changes which they perceive to be discomfiting. A program for managing these groups of people must be clearly and carefully worked out. Otherwise everyone will unconsciously find themselves pulling in different directions.
Readiness assessment also involves analysis of the mode and shape of the resistance to be expected. Proper assessment of this will equip the change manager with enough time to plan and deal with the resistance in ways that will help to achieve the desired result. Without any appropriate plan in place, the organization exposes itself to the danger of firefighting which could deal a severe blow to the entire change program.
Other questions to ask in this assessment stage could be,
- Other than the change being contemplated, what other changes are the employees already grappling with?
- Will the addition of this new change program make coping with change burdensome?
- If it will, what steps could we take to make it less demanding and tough for the employees to cope with?
- What is the cultural background of the employees impacted by this change initiative?
- Will their beliefs work against this change? If yes, what should the organization do?
- Do we have the right team in the organization to manage this change? If the answer is yes, have they been briefed about this task?
- How equipped are they in terms of tools required to manage a successful change program?
- Would they need to train other staff in the course of implementing this change? If yes, do they have what it takes, or do they need training themselves?
Answers to these questions could mark a good beginning for a successful change management exercise.
The next stage in this direction is communication. Communication will help to create awareness on the need for change; clear every doubt in the minds of all affected by the change, and explain in detail the reasons for it. Through proper communications, the vision for the change is laid bare while the consequences for not changing are made clear.
According to Ken Blanchard, the importance of effective communication to the success of a change initiative cannot be underestimated. Effective change communication is focused on creating dialogue and not one way communication with change leaders and those being asked to change.
It should be frequent and orchestrated via many different kinds of media- a good rule of thumb is at least seven times and seven different ways.
It should be consistent in its message regardless of who is communicating and delivered by credible respected sponsors, aligned leadership team members and advocates for the change.
Joseph A. Anetor
Institute of Change Management International