Change management: Is your plan veering off track?

Look for three red flags that indicate your change management methods aren't working – then use transparency to improve results
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Change management

Organizational change is never easy, even without a global pandemic in the equation. Businesses that were in the process of widespread organizational change before stay-at-home orders now face even greater challenges keeping everyone on track.

Today, leaders must adjust and accommodate the needs of the workforce on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. They must work even harder to embrace agility in order to redirect the workforce when things sway off course.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

3 change management red flags

Here’s how to recognize when your organization’s methods aren’t working – and some advice on how to get things back on track.

1. No one seems to know the plan

Successfully implementing any change in an organization starts with a clear, concrete strategy. Research consistently shows that failure to plan up front results in staff and stakeholder confusion because no one can see the larger goal or purpose for the proposed change.

To ensure that the entire company understands the larger picture, lay out and communicate a specific guide that explains why the change is taking place, who will be impacted by the change, what the expected outcome should be, and tactics to reach that outcome. By making sure your team is properly equipped and everyone is on the same page, you can avoid headaches and/or failed initiatives.

2. Focus on systems over people

Sustained change is possible only because of people. Too often, business leaders are more focused on the technology and system-wide changes than on the people who will inevitably implement, use, and support those changes. It is critical to understand what your employees’ day-to-day jobs entail to plan changes that positively benefit workers and increase the efficiency of the organization.

3. Lack of enthusiasm and buy-in

Getting buy-in from every level of the organization is crucial during change. If senior management doesn’t understand or believe in the plan, it will almost certainly end up being scrapped. If middle management or team leaders don’t buy in from the beginning of the process, the implementation and execution of organizational change will suffer.

Communicating the benefits of the proposed changes and the value employees bring to the table personalizes the process and makes it more relatable. It also prevents workers from running out of energy as change management moves forward.

If the workforce is losing steam, think transparency

Transparency and timelines provide employees a practical picture of what their workday will look like. The change management process can take months — even years — which can increase complacency and fatigue. If your employees lose enthusiasm and you are unable to restore their interest, your organizational change management efforts will fail. To keep your strategy on track, identify and celebrate early wins and create workplace experiences that bring people together.

Changing processes is challenging for any business, but careful planning and thoughtful, frequent communication can help drive success. Understanding how employees work and actively encouraging feedback gives them ownership in the change process and increases morale.

Change usually involves systems and technology, but ultimately it is up to the people to drive it. Remember that your employees are the most important part of organizational change management.

[ Are you leading culture change? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation, by Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst. ]

Brian Ahearne is a consultant with over 25 years of experience in Corporate Communication Development and Business Process Improvement. He has spent nearly three decades helping businesses to create powerful messages that help to build teamwork, inspire, motivate and drive decision-making.