It’s the ending of the way things have been and the transition into a new state. It’s exciting — but also jarring.
Navigating change and facing the unknown that comes with it as an individual is difficult. Add in the routines, opinions, and processes of an entire business and it’s no wonder “change management” has emerged as a valuable skill.
In nearly a decade at IMPACT, I have witnessed more organizational changes than I can count on one hand. Through it all, I, our leadership team, and my peers have learned valuable lessons about what it takes to evolve successfully.
Whether you’re facing new ownership, new competition, new technology, or a host of other changes at your business, in this article, I’ll share insights to help you and your team face them with confidence.
While how you manage change is important at all levels of a company, we'll be focusing on the responsibilities of a manager, executive, or team leader.
We’ll go through:
What change management is
Why successful change management matters
Four tips for successful change management
What is change management?
Change management is the process of preparing, supporting, and helping individuals and teams move through organizational change or the altering of key parts of a business’ strategy or operations.
This may involve changes to company culture, organizational or team structure, technology and processes, major initiatives, or goals.
Some changes are small and happen naturally over time, such as the elimination of a particular meeting or a tool, while others are larger in scope and scale, radically shifting the vision and direction of a business much faster.
The latter is where skillful change management is essential.
Successful change management can be make or break
Organizational change can spawn a lot of growth, progress, and overall, goodness, but it doesn't usually come without its initial pains.
Big changes can lower productivity and efficiency and morale. It can shake your routine and even your culture.
Arguably all of these, however, come back to your people.
In 2017, a study from the American Psychological Association (APA) found that transformational changes (think restructuring or new leadership) can lead to employees feeling overly stressed, having less trust in their employers, and having a greater desire to find new jobs.
And frankly, who can blame them? Change is scary, especially in something as foundational as your place of work.
If you can’t feel confident in your performance or comfortable about the future outlook of your employer, it’s natural to seek out a new situation where those concerns will be soothed. However, for a business trying to make big changes, losing team members, no matter how understandable, is a huge wrench in their plans.
Now, it’s natural for there to be some turnover during major organizational shifts. Some people just may no longer be a fit for the culture, work environment, or vision for the future.
Fortunately, your organization can lower the risk of losing good team members simply because the transition wasn’t managed well.
Tips for successful change management
“Managing change means managing the conversation between the people leading the change effort and those who are expected to implement the new strategies, managing the organizational context in which change can occur, and managing the emotional connections that are essential for any transformation.” - Jeanie Daniel Duck, Harvard Business Review, 1993
In other words, change management is about maneuvering the way the change is discussed, how it’s done, and how people feel about it. Below, we’ll dive into some tips to help you accomplish this.
1. Emphasize the why
During times of change, there's bound to be resistance from your team. People may not agree with the changes, understand why they are needed, or be fearful of the effects they will have.
That’s why emphasizing the why of any decision is so important as a manager.
Buy-in is the lynchpin in organizational change.
It’s what ensures everyone is bought in and working toward the success of the plan, not against it. Understanding why something is happening is the first step to getting buy-in.
For example, when we’re working with organizations new to inbound marketing or They Ask, You Answer, we begin by diving deep into how buyer behaviors have shifted to demand a new approach to marketing and also talk about the benefits businesses have experienced by shifting.
Are they internal pressures, such as new leadership?
Are they external pressures, such as the development of new technologies, a shift in your industry, or the emergence of a new competitor?
Once you assemble all of this information, you’ll be better equipped to tackle resistance and, more importantly, position the value of the change to your team specifically.
Will it help team members be more productive? Will it make the company more profitable and in turn increase salaries? Will it reduce stress?
Think of the value the changes will have to your team and make those a highlight of your communication.
Arguably the most important piece of effectively managing change is clear and frequent communication.
Nothing can foster more resentment, confusion, or unhappiness than employees feeling blindsided by the changes, but with regular updates, this can be avoided.
In your execution plan, make sure to include a cadence for communicating the progress of the changes to your team. Depending on your preferences, this could be a mix of methods, including:
In-person or virtual meeting
No matter the medium, start with frequent updates (i.e., weekly) as things are ramping up as this is likely when the most changes will be occurring and people may have the most questions. Then later, as changes stabilize, you can consider winding down to perhaps bi-weekly or monthly.
It’s also smart to inform your team of any major unexpected events, even if they occur outside of these prescribed updates.
Not communicating hiccups runs the risk of misinformation slipping out or rumors or gossip starting among your team. Stay in control of the message by being the first to communicate any news.
3. Be open to feedback
As you’re over-communicating, remember to maintain a dialogue.
Your team will have questions, thoughts, and concerns and you need to be open to not only hearing them but listening and responding as well.
While the changes may not be negotiable, there may be different ways to go about them.
The opinions and feedback of your team members may open your eyes to things you never considered and help you adapt more effectively.
Even better yet...
4. Empower your team to create the implementation plan
This goes without saying, but once you know what’s happening and why, it’s time to create your plan of implementation.
What this looks like will vary depending on the change, but regardless, this is where you should empower your employees to take the lead.
Research by Gartner found 72% of leaders “admit they do not know what employees must do differently during change because they are too disconnected from the work, and priorities change too quickly for leaders to catch up.”
Your team members are likely the implementers of any change. They know how things run in real life and can provide first-hand insight into what needs to be done to transition successfully.
In fact, Gartner found taking this approach can boost the probability of change success by 12%.
Of course, you will need to be ready to offer guidance and remove any impediments, but no one will know better what actually needs to happen than those who are going to be executing it.
Plus, the last thing anyone wants to feel when going through a major shift is that the change is happening to them and they have no say or control in the matter.
Getting your team’s insight here helps combat those feelings and reminds the team they are valued.
Be the champion of the change you want to see
In life and in business, change is inevitable. All we can control is how we react to it. With careful and considerate change management aided by the tips we shared, you can better prepare your team for organizational disruptions and promote positive reactions.
As you work through this, remember: Always be the number one champion of the change you want to see.
During times of transition, your team may be anxious. They’re looking for comfort and affirmation that everything is going to work out well. They’ll need a strong leader to guide them. Even in the face of challenges, be that voice of confidence.