Change management – everyone thinks they “get it,” most people don’t much like it. Yet, from digital transformations to functional or structural re-alignments to welcoming a new CEO – change is an inescapable, permanent part of our organizational lives. Here’s what to know about managing change:
- The knee bone’s connected to the hip bone … Every time your foot takes a step your knee has to mobilize, and so does your hip. Same in an organization, especially when implementing any kind of “enterprise transformation.” There is no such thing as “a change.” Change requires change – change begets change. It is not possible to change “just one thing.”
Let’s say you’re introducing a new IT solution: What changes are needed to get ready? What changes will be needed after implementation? What in your organization will enable this change to succeed? What organizational challenges are impeding implementation or undermining this change effort? Are you prepared to resolve these issues? Or, in your heart of hearts, do you know these issues will repeat the next time you want to change something?
Anytime we implement “enterprise change” we literally mobilize the entire system: we are changing the enterprise. Processes change. People’s jobs are affected. Reporting structures, team relationships, even how you set goals and manage performance will change. In this regard your organization behaves like any system – change reverberates often in ways you mightn’t have expected. Change occurs when change occurs.
- Talk about change … Used to be, we’d plan a change, implement, and move on. No more. Change is no longer a blip on the screen – it’s now a compelling element of our business model. Wherever you “sit” as a leader, you can lead change best by talking about change. Don’t wait for change to occur; make it part of your organizational narrative. Let your team know: “we expect change.” And take time to understand and acknowledge that as humans, we each react differently to change, and that is natural and can and should be talked through. Change is now part of our lived organizational experience. Make change part of your organizational DNA.
- The change path changes … The so-called “change journey” isn’t a straight or certain path. We need to expect that while our vision and goals might be clear and achievable, we are likely to experience twists and turns along the way – that’s the nature of a change process. Leaders often feel they’re expected to have precisely mapped the entire way forward from change launch to execution to integration. But change plans don’t work that way. Indeed, current agile approaches to change incorporate this reality and for that reason much is made of not just “doing” agile but also “being” agile.
Change is about learning: as we move through the change process, what we are learning informs the change process, so that we are learning more about what and how we want and need to change. That is natural – it’s part of the process – and that in turn must be part of the messaging when we inform and engage our stakeholders.
The way forward is not a static road – there are speed bumps, detours, accidents, changes in traffic patterns, weather conditions to watch for, even roads that were open when we first started out that “suddenly” are now “under construction” or closed. This is the nature of change. This is why clarity around the vision or business imperative for a change is vital – it serves as our guiding light, our inspiration for taking the next step forward. And the one after that. It enables us and our organization to weather the winds of the change journey.
- Engage and inform … Don’t wait. Talk about what you are thinking needs to change or might change. Involve people right from the beginning.
Nothing is so powerful as engaging those most affected by a change in its planning and execution. Yes, it can be cumbersome and hard. No, it doesn’t mean you democratize every decision or lead by consensus. But yes, it means that the time and effort you invest up front to ask people what they think before you embark on a change you gain when you get to implementation and adoption. If you wait until it’s time to train or implement or “adopt” it’s too late – you will have lost the very people you want to have come along with you.
Don’t try and “sell” the change to get “buy in.” People want to feel they have a real stake in the change, and that their insights and views are genuinely heard and considered. Also, compliance isn’t “ownership.” Compliance only works until people apply the very ingenuity they should be using to participate in the change process to find clever work-arounds so that they can avoid the change altogether.
- It’s a game of gain and loss. Of unlearning and learning… We often talk about people “resisting change,” but really, resistance to change is just an expression of being addicted to the way things are – and that’s exquisitely human. When we’ve worked hard to make something so, the last thing we want is to change it, or to feel like it no longer matters or that we have to start all over again.
Often, a change means that the new way replaces the old way. It calls on us to learn to do things differently or learn to do different things. Being a learner can put us in a vulnerable spot. Where we used to know, now we don’t – or at least don’t quite. New process. New supervisor or team structure. New IT solution. New way of thinking even, or of interacting with colleagues. It takes courage to change – we rarely talk about this, yet it is probably the most consequential thing there is to know about managing change.
Change is not just all around us – it is in us. We are changing organisms whose cells change hundreds of times a day. We change and experience change again and again, in big and little ways. Change is the human condition. Understanding change in this way will help us and those around us manage change more effectively.