Mastering the Art of Organizational Change
When it’s time for organizational change in the workplace, most employees resist. Not always, but often, especially if they don’t see the point.
That’s because we’re creatures of habit, preferring the status quo to the unknown and unfamiliar, say organizational change management experts like Madeline Laurano, human capital analyst and co-founder of Aptitude Research Partners. “Change can bring tremendous opportunity but it can also elicit fear. Employees often fear that their jobs will be disrupted, their value to the workplace will be jeopardized, and their ability to meet new expectations will be challenging. They fear they will fail.”
Trust can also be an issue, notes a recent poll of U.S. workers by the American Psychological Association. Nearly a third of respondents said they were cynical when it comes to employer change, due to perceived hidden agendas and lack of transparency.
But for most organizations today, avoiding change isn’t an option, no matter how much agita it creates.
As the rate of disruption accelerates and threatens virtually every industry, companies that rest, rust. And those that don’t evolve risk obsolescence. In fact, mastering the art of rapid organizational change has become a critical competitive advantage, and organizations that are able to succeed at this are far more likely to come out ahead.
Making change happen
So what does it take to make change happen? Not much if you’re in a highly agile and entrepreneurial environment, but a solid plan and tenacity if you’re not.
Depending on the scope of the change and number of employees impacted, it may also take someone versed in the art of change management, which has evolved as a formalized discipline in recent years, to shepherd an initiative to its conclusion.
Know your audience
Regardless of what approach is used — a specific organizational change management model or hybrid — the first step is knowing one’s audience, says Kelly Keating, a Prosci certified consultant with Black Box Consulting. “Determining who will be impacted by an initiative allows you to size the change and assess the organization, and to develop your change management strategy.”
Those leading the charge can also conduct a readiness assessment, which can indicate whether employees will adapt or resist, Keating said. Leadership styles should also be considered, as well as the positions taken by middle managers. Do they advocate the organizational change, oppose it, or are they somewhere in between?
Once this has been established, a plan can be formed. In addition to a timeline and tasks list, this should include details on the team, sponsors, and communications.
Implementing the plan
Getting everyone on board and implementing the plan comes next, using strategies like these to increase the likelihood of success:
Involve all stakeholders, ASAP: In addition to senior leadership, stakeholders can include technical teams, junior level employees, support staff, etc. Senior leaders ideally provide vision and direction, while others provide the information and expertise needed for their areas of operation.
By taking this approach, concerns about requirements can be mitigated early on. This may then make participants more willing to accommodate the needs of the larger group.
Communicate: This should be an ongoing and transparent process that also begins as soon as possible. First on the agenda is determining the communications plan itself. Who will communicate what, and when? The goal, ultimately, is to ensure that all parties involved always have a clear understanding of the initiative, overall plan, timelines, and individual or team tasks and responsibilities.
Individual communications, which can consist of ongoing updates that are shared with all team members and stakeholders, should also convey a sense of urgency. Why is the change needed? What’s wrong with the status quo? What does the change involve? Why now? What’s the expected outcome? How will this benefit the company and employees?
Eliminate barriers: These can include those that are common to many organizations, like managers who don’t support change, inadequate information systems, and/or formal structures and silos that limit the ability of employees to act.
Test at all levels: For optimal results, any testing that’s required should include users with varying levels of competence. Although subject matter experts who quickly adapt to new processes and systems are needed, so are new team members and those who sometimes struggle with organizational change, as their participation can help identify areas needing further tweaking and review.
Identify issues as they arise: During implementation, issues will present themselves, such as the ability of employees to actually adopt changes. For instance, as new systems or platforms are introduced, participants may discover that new equipment is needed, or that they need additional training.
Ask for feedback: Even if it’s negative (and especially if it is), feedback is good. This will enable early identification and remediation of any issues or flaws, which will, in many instances, prevent small problems from mushrooming. It will also show employees that their input is valued and needed.
Be honest: This goes without saying. Not only should management answer questions and address concerns, it should also practice proactive transparency. That is, keep everyone in the loop.
Spotlight positive results: Watch for signs of progress and reward successes, no matter how small.
Keep it going: Although this technically occurs after the fact, it’s important to maintain momentum and continuously reinforce the change, lest it wither on the vine. This can be done via training, incentives, policies and/or promotions, until it, too, becomes the status quo.
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