When leading change, it’s common to focus much of the effort on the tools and processes that will undergo the change. However, a critical element of successful change management must be the people involved who will use those processes and tools every day. A study conducted by PWC found that change management initiatives often fail because people either become overwhelmed by the change, are resistant to it, or simply don’t know how to deal with it. If change management efforts are to succeed, then employee mindset and behaviors must change, too. Here are five best practices to help you put people at the forefront and ensure sustainable organizational change:
1. Share the Vision
When the time comes to begin an organizational change initiative, it’s important first to develop a vision and get leadership buy-in for it, and then communicate it to the rest of the organization so they understand it’s not just change for the sake of change. It’s one thing to tell employees that change is coming, but another to explain the end goal and why change is necessary to meet that goal. When employees understand the rationale for change and how it can be accomplished, they will be more likely to develop a commitment to change and see how they can have a role in it. With a strong vision that employees can connect to, they not only become informed about the change and what it means for them, but they may feel more inspired and motivated.
2. Define Expectations
After a strong vision for change has been communicated, employees will logically want to know how their role and overall responsibilities will be affected. Therefore, it will be necessary to explain expectations on a macro level so that employees have some guidance on how they will be expected to contribute to organizational change on an ongoing basis. Individuals are more likely to support change when they can see some of the more tangible implications of it—for example, the timing of the change initiative, how team accountabilities will shift, and what new skills or knowledge they’ll need to meet new performance expectations effectively.
3. Communicate Frequently
Another important best practice for successful change management is frequent communication from organizational leaders, including plentiful opportunities for two-way feedback. The more people hear messages about change—and hear those messages across different channels—the more they will understand the need for change, as well as the organization’s commitment to achieving it. Communication of a major change initiative doesn’t stop with a company-wide email or announcement in a staff meeting; it has more impact when communicated to employees in other forums such as one-on-meetings, focus groups, team discussions, and training sessions that offer opportunities to ask questions and understand the need for change.
4. Optimize the Impact
As change gets underway, new ideas and opportunities for automation or other efficiencies will emerge, and employees will need assistance managing unanticipated obstacles that appear. To help employees manage these challenges, leaders need to identify the priorities that will remain the same, communicate new priorities, and illustrate how the two fit together. Organizational leaders and direct supervisors can optimize organizational change efforts by working with employees to introduce new processes or revamp existing ones. Doing so will ensure that individual efforts correctly align with activities that support the ongoing change initiative. As organizations that have undergone successful change management have learned, leading change requires not only a focus on the bigger picture, but also the ability to shift, eliminate, and add priorities as the change initiative continues.
5. Sustain the Energy
Along the journey to change, it’s important to keep employees engaged and motivated, especially because some change initiatives can take months or even years to complete. Measuring success and celebrating wins along the way helps to recognize employee efforts, and also helps everyone see their progress. Some of the tools that can measure the progress of a change management initiative include assessments, surveys, and training reinforcement that helps individuals retain new skills and knowledge they’ve picked up over the course of the change.
Deliberate organizational change can only be achieved when it is supported by individual attitudes and behaviors. Without the enthusiastic support of the people involved, change is likely to stall or become “flavor of the month.” A clear vision, frequent communication, and opportunities for employees to learn and grow will make a positive difference in helping to achieve sustained organizational change.