Leaders and managers play a unique role in organizational change. They act as champions for change, as supporters of employees, and in reinforcing change after it has taken root. Despite the many studies that show the high failure rate of change management initiatives, one study of more than 56 companies found that a key characteristic of successful change efforts was the involvement of managers who are able to act as levers of change at all levels of the organization. Given that leaders are involved in the daily work routines of all employees, it is of the utmost importance that they implement the following five change management strategies to increase the chances of success:
1. Establish a Clear Vision
Effective change leadership requires a clear vision that is shared with employees in a way that is both understandable and inspiring. The shared vision should outline what will change and what will remain the same for the organization, the team, and individuals. Beyond hearing or reading about the vision, employees need to understand it. Therefore, communicating the vision many times and in various mediums will ensure your employees have a clear understanding of the planned change and the reasons behind it. Here are a few things you can do as a leader to establish a clear vision:
- Create a clear picture of the organizational goals, how the change initiative will help to achieve those goals, and how it will affect employees on an individual level.
- Regularly discuss the vision in meetings, on the company intranet, and in town-hall gatherings.
- Talk with your employees individually, formally and informally, about the change and, more specifically, about how it is going for them personally.
2. Leverage the Change Management Timeline
Organizational change is a journey that requires a strategy before, during, and after implementation. As a leader, you can take the following steps throughout the timeline:
- Before the change: Begin to ask questions to determine employee readiness for change; surveys are one way to do this. Set and communicate employee goals that relate directly to the change initiative.
- During the change: Recognize milestones and employee actions in support of change. This is a great way to keep change efforts alive. During meetings, emphasize items that have been crossed off to-do lists and praise the team’s progress and continued commitment.
- After the change: Reinforce the goal of the initiative with the help of surveys or questionnaires that assess the degree to which the transformation has been successful. Use the responses to determine if further action needs to be taken.
3. Support Your Employees
New MRI technology is able to show what happens to our brains when we are faced with major organizational change, giving us a better understanding of the feelings that change can evoke in us, including fear, anxiety, anger, and fatigue. To gain the support and commitment of your employees, try using change-management strategies to mitigate emotions like fear and resistance. The following are some actions you can take to support your employees during times of change:
- Create varied learning opportunities to help your employees handle workplace changes; for example, experiential training sessions can encourage individuals to test out new skills and behaviors associated with change in a risk-free environment that allows them to practice and better understand the outcomes.
- Be sympathetic to your employees’ emotions and address their concerns with honesty and optimism. Sometimes, working through emotions together—either one-on-one or as a team—helps individuals address their frustration and fear of change in a more constructive way.
4. Ensure Effective Two-Way Communication
Some people need to see and hear information many times to achieve sustainable behavior change. Furthermore, the chances of change-management success are greater when employees are given a variety of opportunities to communicate with one another. Here’s how you can support healthy two-way communication:
- Provide opportunities to discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with change in meetings, team off-site activities, and team-building sessions.
- Recognize the power of casual social interactions and how shared experiences help employees make sense of the change they are experiencing.
- Search for and address communication bottlenecks that may be standing in the way of change.
5. Focus on Skill Development
When your employees develop the communication, time management, and stress management skills that can help them handle change, they’ll be better equipped and will feel more confident. During times of change it may be necessary to provide change management training for both leaders and employees, as well as implement a reinforcement strategy that promotes real-time coaching and ongoing learning.
Effective change management requires the active participation of leadership and the implementation of the strategies above. While the actions leaders take to support change initiatives may vary depending on their role, function, or leadership style, the underlying commonality is their commitment to the change initiative and ensuring its success.