Principles of Change Management
There was a time when markets were stable, people remained in their jobs, and life was relatively less hectic. However, when the winds of change started to blow, labour mobility, market transparency, instant communication, and global capital flows disrupted that comfortable scenario completely. Almost all companies irrespective of their respective sizes had a compulsory focus on something which they happily avoided in the past – ‘change’. This posed an unfamiliar challenge to the majority of executives. In case of large enterprises managing transformations, the senior executives along with their advisors focussed all their attention towards formulating the best strategic plans. But to encourage the desired outcome and achieve success, they need to have a close understanding of the human aspect of change management. In other words, change management regarding the organisation’s values, culture, behaviours, and people. Plans by themselves won’t be able to capture value till they are realised through the collective action of the employees of the organisation who would be executing, designing, and living this change.
Long-term structural transformation entails the following four characteristics: scale, magnitude, strategic significance, and duration. However, organisations will only be able to reap the rewards when this change takes place at the individual level of every employee. Senior executives of organisations are aware of this fact, and it worries them as they continuously wonder how their workforce will react to this change, how they can get the task force to work together as a cohesive unit, and also how they will lead their people. These senior executives also stress themselves out thinking of retaining the unique values specific to their organisation and creating a culture of performance and commitment.
It is a known fact that one methodology won’t fit into every organisation. However, there is a set of tools, techniques, and practices that can be adapted to various types of situations. Let’s take a look at the top 10 list of guiding principles of change management.
- The human aspect of change. Any significant transformation always brings with it people-related issues. For instance, new leaders will be expected to step up, new skills need to be developed, roles will change, and employees are likely to be resistant towards this new change. If the senior executives try to deal with these issues by displaying their reactive side, there is a high possibility of putting the results, speed, and morale at risk. Hence, a change management approach needs to be integrated into the design and decision making process. Apart from this, change management needs to be based on a realistic assessment of the organisation’s capacity to change, its readiness, and its history regarding adapting to change.
- Change begins at the top. Whenever there is a change, it is natural for people at levels of an organisation to feel unsettled. At such a time, all eyes turn towards the senior executive leadership looking for support, strength, and direction from them. Hence, it is very important for the leaders to be the first to embrace this change and to motivate and challenge the rest of the people in the organisation. The leadership needs to project a unified voice and display the desired or expected behaviours. It is essential for the leadership team to understand the fact that while their unity is projected at a public face level, their team also comprises of individuals who are going through stress and hence needs support. Hence, it is essential for them to be committed and aligned towards this change and take efforts to understand the behaviours and culture that this change intends to introduce and how they can project these changes themselves first and set examples for the rest of the employees.
- Consciously involve every layer of the organisation. As the transformation programs progress within the organisation right from defining the strategy stage till the implementations stage, they are likely to impact various levels. Hence, it is important to identify leaders and push responsibility for design and implementation down the path, so that it flows smoothly throughout the organisation. It is important to align these leaders who are identified and trained, to the overall vision of the company, so that they are well equipped to execute their mission well and are motivated enough to make this change take place.
- Articulate change well. It is natural for people to question their leaders to what extent is this change needed, whether the company is headed towards the right direction, and whether they wish to personally commit towards making the change. Employees will look up to the leadership seeking answers to these questions. Hence it is important to articulate the changes in a formal case and create a written vision statement. The following steps need to be followed while developing the case:
- First and foremost face reality and articulate the need for change in a convincing manner.
- Secondly, the leadership needs to show faith that the organisation has a viable future and the leadership will help in getting there.
- Last but not the least, provide a roadmap that will define the behaviour and decision making of the leadership. Leadership can then later customise this message to be shared with the internal audiences.
- Create a sense of ownership. Leaders of large change management programs need to be willing to accept responsibility to make this change feasible in all possible areas that they can influence or control. Ownership is generated in the best possible manner when it involves people to identify issues and come up with solutions. This can be further reinforced by rewards and incentives which may be tangible either in the form of financial compensation or psychological compensation.
- Reinforce core messages with regular communication. Very often leaders commit the mistake of believing that others understand the issues, realise the need for change, and can clearly see this new direction as well as they do. The best change programs are the ones that reinforce the core messages via regular and timely communication that is practical as well as inspirational. This sometimes needs over communication via redundant and multiple channels.
- Assess the cultural landscape of the organisation. Succesful change programs usually pick up pace and intensity as they cascade down. Hence it is important for leaders to comprehend and assess the culture and behaviour at every level of the organisation. Organizations are often seen to commit the error of either evaluate the culture too late or not assessing it at all. With the help of cultural diagnostics, the leadership will be able to determine the readiness of the organisation towards change, identify issues, figure out conflicts, and define factors that can help to influence and recognise sources of resistance and leadership. These diagnostics help in determining the core beliefs, values, and perceptions that need to be taken into consideration for change to take place successfully.
- Address culture. Once an organisation’s culture is understood, leaders need to be explicit about the culture and the underlying behaviours that support this change and look for opportunities to display and reward those actions. An organisation’s culture is an amalgamation of explicit values, beliefs, shared history, and common behaviours and attitudes. Change programs often entail creating a culture that combines different cultures or reinforces cultures.
- Prepare for the unexpected. It needs to be understood that no change program goes correctly as per the plan. It is natural for people to react in different and unexpected ways; a possibility of environmental shifts, and for areas of anticipated conflict or resistance to fall away. In order to effectively manage change, it needs continuous assessment of the impact and the willing of the organisation to adopt this new wave of change. When change is supported by real field data and solid decision-making processes, it is very much feasible for change leaders to make the necessary adjustments to maintain the momentum required and thereby be able to drive the desired outcome.
- Speak with a one to one tone. Change is not only an organisational journey but a personal one as well. Since people spend most of their time at work, it is natural for people to consider colleagues as a second family. Hence, individuals need to understand how their work is likely to change as a result of this transformation and what is expected out of them during and post this change program. They would also be keen to know how they will be measured and what success or failure of this change program will mean for them and everyone around. Thus it is important for leaders to be honest and as explicit as possible. They should have one to one discussion if required to address the questions or concerns of their team members. Since people are likely to react to whatever they see in and around them, they should be involved during this entire process of change. Leaders must ensure to offer visible rewards for embracing this change by providing recognition, promotions, and bonuses.