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Why We Need to Rethink Organizational Change Management

By Sue Wigston on January 10, 2019

All organizations deal with change, whether it is brought on by shifts in customer demands, industry-wide disruption, or new digital tools that change how work is performed. Despite the fact that change is an inevitable reality for any company, many conventional models of organizational change management don’t set companies up for long-term success. In fact, many organizational change efforts fail because individuals haven’t been properly prepared to change, and therefore they either don’t support it or actively resist it.

The key to change management success is to be proactive and train leaders early to take a people-centric approach to change. Change leaders can make all the difference in helping employees develop the mindset that helps them deal with change. In fact, a study by Gallup researchers found that leaders, especially those on the front line, play a critical role in helping change initiatives succeed when they might have otherwise failed. Furthermore, the study found that leaders provide the focus, direction, and accountability that help employees understand not only the change itself, but also their role in its success.

Organizational change typically involves adjustments to the process and tools that people use in the organization. However, instead of thinking about organizational change in terms of the processes and tools that are impacted, you’ll need to focus on the people who are using the processes and tools, and how to effectively lead them through change. Here are some ways to get your next change initiative started off on the right foot.

Establish a Clear Vision

For many, organizational change can seem like a maze of moving parts, the need to learn new technology, and constant upgrades to existing processes. The nonstop pace of change can be so overwhelming that some individuals experience what’s called “change fatigue.” According to a survey conducted by the Katzenbach Center, 65 percent of employees have felt overwhelmed and fatigued by organizational change, in large part because so many of the changes lacked a vision or proper preparation.

For employees to feel less overwhelmed by change, they need to understand the reason for change and how it will impact the day-to-day of their work processes and goals. A clear vision helps individuals see the line of sight to the end goal and helps them connect the dots on how their roles and responsibilities will change over time. Abruptly introducing change or just telling people that change is coming can only create a sense of fear and anxiety. Conversely, helping individuals understand the why, how, and when of any change initiative will help to ease worry and concern and ensure that people will be more open to change.

Ensure Effective Two-Way Communication

As with any important company initiative, there must be an effective flow of information to help employees understand what’s happening, how change affects them, and their role in making the initiative a success. Leaders play a critical role in ensuring key messages are communicated clearly and frequently throughout their team and the organization. From the executive level all the way to the front lines, organizational leaders can benefit from training that helps them communicate before change occurs, during the change initiative, and after the change is implemented. When leaders ensure effective and clear communication, it is less likely that key messages will be misunderstood or ignored.

Effective communication about organizational change doesn’t just flow one way. Frequent, two-way communication provides employees with opportunities to learn about upcoming changes, express their concerns, and ask questions so they know what is expected during times of change. Two-way communication helps to ensure that people are better prepared to deal with change before it happens. It also provides an outlet for working through the inevitable challenges and obstacles individuals will encounter as a result of change.

Some of the ways leaders can encourage two-way dialogue about organizational change include:

  • Providing individuals with a venue for casual social interaction where they can discuss and learn from shared experiences.

  • Seeking opportunities in group meetings to address the challenges and opportunities created by change and how the team can approach them.

  • Conducting team-building sessions or off-sites that will cover topics related to the change initiative.

Provide Skills and Leadership Development Opportunities

It’s one thing to experience organizational change, and another to have the skills to effectively manage it. When individuals are equipped with the skills and knowledge to handle change, they’re likely to be better at it. Leaders, and indeed all employees, can benefit from skills development training in the areas of communication, time management, and process management, to name just a few examples, to help them gain confidence and increase their capacity for dealing with change.

In addition to providing employees with the training that teaches them how to perform at optimal levels during times of change, organizational leaders can help employees continue to use their new skills and knowledge in the workplace even after training has taken place. Leadership development provides leaders with the necessary tools to help them deliver feedback and coaching as a means of reinforcing employee behaviors learned in training.

Keep the Momentum Going

With any change initiative, there are likely to be course corrections and new considerations that crop up, so it’s necessary to keep the momentum going so that change efforts don’t fizzle or become a “flavor of the month.” Though a vision for change has been communicated and individuals have received training to help them better manage change, it is still necessary for leaders to follow up and reinforce important themes related to the change initiative.

Some examples of activities that can help to build and sustain the momentum of change efforts include:

  • Be flexible - Leaders can help to create greater efficiency and help employees be more productive by evolving and adapting to new obstacles and being open to discussing new ideas or processes.

  • Recognize successes - Celebrating milestones and other successes along the way helps employees see that leaders are paying attention and that progress is being made.

  • Display empathy - Leaders can demonstrate empathy and understanding by continuing to support employees and listening to their concerns with compassion.

  • Provide regular updates - Providing regular status updates in team meetings keeps the vision of the change initiative top of mind and allows individuals to see and hear about progress.

There are also useful measurement and reinforcement tools that can help deepen the impact of your change initiative and keep the momentum going. Surveys, assessments, or scorecards can help to gauge employee mindset about change as well as measure behavior during and after the change initiative. These tools can help you accurately evaluate the success of your change management efforts and pinpoint areas that still require some work.

Rethink Change Management by Focusing on People

Successful organizational change management starts with people—how leaders manage change and help others obtain the tools, knowledge, and commitment to embrace it. Effectively leading change requires more than changing a process, implementing a new one, or bringing new technology into the workplace. For people to adopt those processes and tools, there needs to be an early focus on helping individuals understand why change is happening, the benefits of changing, and how these new processes and tools will support their success.

Organizational leaders hold the keys to the success of any change management initiative. They help employees navigate the waters of change with a clear vision, plentiful opportunities for two-way communication, and the coaching required to keep people focused and energized. All employees can benefit from training that helps them lead and manage change. When organizational leaders also have the know-how to effectively lead others through change, the chances of success are even greater.

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As Chief Operating Officer, Sue's extensive senior leadership experience and facilitation skills have established her as a trusted partner and organizational development expert. She has a proven track record of successfully leading culture transformation in Fortune 500 companies and has established herself as an authority on training and development. Sue has over 20 years of experience in the creation and delivery of programs and custom designed solutions for Eagle's Flight.

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Founded in 1988, Eagle's Flight has earned its reputation as a global leader in the development and delivery of business-relevant, experiential learning programs that achieve specific training objectives and lasting behavior changes.

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