Change Management has become a widely regarded phrase placed next to a neatly packaged change management model. Organizations hire “change management” experts, leaders advocate for specific change management methods, and external consultants rake in the cash as they provide change management services to companies.
This buzz phrase has become the magic potion to treat any ailment that plagues a company: just roll out a change management process and everyone will get it. I am not knocking change management by the way, in fact, I led change management initiatives for many years under the title of a change leader, my pushback is simply that it is not some fancy process: managing change is something we all do every day. Let this past year be a lesson that we all have the aptitude to move through change and figure out how to navigate through our current state. Let it also create awareness that in our attempt to put a label on organizational change we can get so caught up in the process that we lose sight of the fuel that really drives change forward, people.
In fact, crisis is the best time for change to happen within organizations because people are the most flexible. This would prove counterintuitive to some of our widely adopted change models where we spend so much time building out the plan for change that we miss the chance to create excitement and energy around it. When there is a crisis you don’t have time to plan, you simply adapt.
As a leader, perhaps it is time to step back and revisit some of your change management approaches. Let’s look at the 8 most common pitfalls of current change management practices:
1. THE PACE OF CHANGE
The first step in change management builds the foundation for the rest of the process and sets the tone for the efficacy of change. Identifying the change that needs to take place may be obvious which tempts those leading the charge to move toward action, identifying the next steps to activate change. The piece often overlooked is appropriate assessment of the current state. This means identifying any process in place that will be impacted by change and scoping out the big picture: who are the people involved and impacted. There needs to be an appropriate balance of process and people; just because a process is rolled out seamlessly does not mean the change will be adopted.
When to slow down…. An effective change effort begins with the practice of awareness: stepping back and inspecting everything that may be touched by change. This also means discovering the current standards and subculture habits and understanding the current expectations of practice. Patiently taking inventory of a current state may not be comfortable for those who want to push ahead and inflict change at a rapid pace, however, overriding this need for the desire to move quickly leads to a low-grade execution of change.
When to speed up…the bottleneck in a change process becomes the number of meetings and conversations that take place around project management and it slows things down quite a bit: deadlines get pushed back, change efforts become stunted, and teams begin to feel frustrated. The change plan should be ready to go before it is rolled out to the organization and once rolled out the only adaptions taking place should be based on conversations with those impacted rather than behind closed doors with the change initiators.
2. THE CONNECTION OF PEOPLE TO CHANGE
It is all too common for change leaders to sit in a room and talk process at nauseum - they work through and work out and work through the change again, creating a continual imbalance of the actual activity of change. The more time practitioners spend discussing the change, the less relatable they are to those who will be impacted by the change. By the time the change is rolled-out, employees will be mere names on a communication cascade spreadsheet, a part of the process, a “cog in the wheel.”
Change cannot be communicated as an afterthought; it needs to be a conversation with everyone involved. Rather than focusing on the process, leaders will find success in sharing the purpose behind the change and why it matters. It would behoove those leading the charge to explain the benefit to the company and the individuals impacted. When change is communicated in a detached way it can only be expected that your employees will be detached from that change and the adoption process.
3. OVER-COMMITMENT TO A CHANGE MANAGEMENT PROCESS
Change management processes present as helpful tools, however, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to change. It can be all too easy to over index on one strategy because it is familiar or widely regarded. The conundrum does not lie in the process itself but rather your commitment to it: it is easy to fall into comfort with the steps and become rigid in anything that may deviate. Change leaders can become so immersed in measuring every step in comparison to a model that they lose their ability to be present in the moment, read the current state, and adapt as needed.
A change model or methodology should be used as a tool to reference and build off and is great for planning out a change process but should not be used to shield leaders from a need specific to the group impacted by change.
Often leaders will use a ubiquitous model to approach their change efforts and while the models have merit, the psychology behind the commitment to the model becomes the detractor. When you lose flexibility in implementing change you become a contradiction to change and advertise the exact behaviors that you are trying to dismantle in others.
4. EMPHASIS ON PROCESS OVER PEOPLE
An effective change approach is a process built for people. Rather than leading change as a dictatorship, practitioners will want to build trust and gain accountability by providing employees with the right tools to easily adopt change. If the change feels easy and support is provided people will move into a new way of work. Workshops, trainings, and toolkits will be an imperative part of giving people what they need to be successful.
The process may guide you, but your people will ultimately dictate the direction of change, especially if they are not bought in. A key reminder is to stop and listen each step of the way to ensure that people not only understand the new expectations, but they understand they why behind the change. Giving space for an improvement to your process is always a good thing. Tunnel vision will not take you far in the art of change management; you will need all hands-on deck once you begin implementation.
5. THE IDENTIFICATION OF OUTLIERS
Building a communication plan is one of the most universal tools of any change management blueprint. However, building the plan is only the start, it is important to consider all parties involved in the change, including your outliers: these are the people who won’t need to change how they work but will need to know what is happening.
Leaders can put a lot of time into a change effort that quickly deflates once implemented because they did not consider parallel parties that would be influential in gaining buy in. It is difficult for your employees to adopt a new way of work when their business partners aren’t aware of the change.
Over communicate change and consider as many people as possible when building out your communication plan. It is also critical to note your internal influencers, the people who have a strong influence over the group’s opinion without being in a direct leadership role. Your internal influencers can be a huge asset to you if you bring them into the process early and get their buy in.
6. INEFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
The communication can be lopsided when executing change: leaders spend a lot of time at the front-end building out the process and planning for implementation and by the time they begin to execute change it feels like checking off a box rather than truly engaging.
Communication should be evenly dispersed through the beginning, middle, and end of a change management effort; it should flow. Ineffective communication leads to a lot of challenges from lack of buy-in to unclear expectations and confusion.
A good communication plan will include those who need to be communicated with and how while also plotting out opportunities for discussions along the way. A steady stream of communication touch points might be:
A new initiative (change) is announced at a Town Hall -> following the Town Hall informed leaders hold a meeting with their immediate team to answer questions about the change and listen to feedback-> the leader meets with the change leader to share feedback and opinions->another follow up meeting with the team to close the loop on open questions ->ongoing touch points as change is implemented
An effective communication plan allows room for change within change and involves feedback from the team. It also ensures that there is a communication touch point every step of the way so that no one gets lost in the process. While this will certainly take more time in the beginning, it will ensure ease of change and adoption of practice so that less time will be spent working backwards in the long-term.
7. LACK OF SUPPORT FROM LEADERSHIP SUBGROUPS
One of the biggest reasons change efforts fail is because the leaders that manage teams through the change are either not informed themselves or they do not take the time to provide the needed support to their team. Change practitioners often assume that the department leaders who are guiding teams through change are adept at managing the transition on their own and this is where you see some teams thrive during change while others barely get off the ground.
Departmental leaders need to be provided with the right tools: all leaders should be given a schedule of touch points they should follow to ensure their team is supported, this way all teams will be moving through a consistent ritual that is supportive of the change creating alignment and awareness. They should receive change communication first so they can ask questions that their teams will most likely ask them. They should also be provided with a point of contact and a folder inclusive of commonly asked questions & answers and any information that would support them in leading their team through the change.
Once a change is implemented, leaders should have the right tools from talking points to time for longer group discussions on what is working and what is not. They should be conducting daily and weekly pulse checks with their teams and reporting back into their leadership to provide a clear understanding of wins and challenges across the organization.
8. MINIMAL POST CHANGE FOLLOW UP
The follow up is just as important as any other part of the change process. This is an opportunity to measure how employees have adopted the change and identify anything that needs to be revisited. The measurement needs to go beyond a review of the numbers and follow a close inspection of employee behaviors, the new standard of expectation, and if there are opportunities to revisit and improve any part of the new process.
Often, employees will attempt to embrace a change at first whether it is a new approach or the adoption of a technology but will quickly fall into their old way of work if they run into a challenge they weren’t prepared for. Therefore, providing employees with the right tools and training during the middle phase of a change effort is so important. It is also imperative to provide support on the back end as well. Backend support could be standing up a short-term support hotline dedicated specifically to answering questions related to the change at hand or creating a chat group where employees can have questions answered in short periods of time while also having the opportunity to read other questions and answers relevant to their change.
A spike in savings and/or efficiency should not suffice as measurement for an effective change roll-out and could ultimately lead to a plummet down the road. Lasting change requires a constant inspection and adaptation of the new process until it becomes habitual for employees.
Whether implementing a small or large-scale change, successful execution comes back to careful consideration of the beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is your planning process and identification of current state vs. future state. The middle is activating your employees to get involved by providing them with the proper tools for adoption. The end is assessing current state and identifying adjustments that need to be made. The whole of it is remaining flexible while not losing sight of the end goal and why the change needs to take place; it is keeping close to the people involved and being careful not to become too encumbered by the planning process that you become disconnected from the people. Once you find your rhythm change management becomes so much more than a process, it becomes a way of doing things. There is an ease and fluidity and once understood by a change leader it can change everything.
The Bond Consulting Group is currently offering a complimentary change consultation followed up with a recommended change model tailored to your organizational needs. Connect with us here to get started!