Insights

The 8 key features of a successful change management strategy

March 21, 2013

Your exciting new technology isn't going to be much benefit to the organization unless your employees are using it, which is why having a change management strategy in place before you implement it is crucial.

One of the oft-overlooked elements of an implementation strategy of any kind of technology is change management. Even when change is widely understood as an improvement over the status quo, individuals instinctually cling to their comfort zones. Why? Because people naturally fear the unknown. Luckily, the ways that organizational leaders communicate and manage change can positively affect how change is adopted. There are many flavours and degrees of change, and, as such, the approach to leading change will vary widely from situation to situation, based on the scope and complexity of the change, the environment, the stakeholder audience that will be affected, etc. That said, successful change strategies typically exhibit one or more of the following key features:

1. They take a systematic approach to the “human side” of the change.

Any significant change creates human-relations issues. Employees may be asked to take on new roles and responsibilities; new skills and capabilities may need to be developed. Addressing these issues with reactive, ad hoc solutions puts speed, company morale, and results at risk. To mitigate this risk, successful change strategies typically feature a formal-yet-flexible approach for managing change that systematically addresses all potential human-relations issues that may arise on account of the change. This approach is best developed early on in the change process.

2. They have the long-term commitment of senior management.

Because change is inherently unsettling for people at all levels of an organization, employees will typically look to senior management for strength, support, and direction when change is upon them. As such, successful change strategies typically secure the full commitment of organization leaders before a planned change is even announced. These leaders are then expected to model the desired new behaviours, and, in doing so, challenge and motivate the rest of the institution.

3. They involve leaders at every layer.

As a change program progresses from the initial strategy/ design phase to the implementation phase, it affects different levels of an organization. As such, successful change strategies typically include plans for identifying leaders throughout the company and pushing responsibility for design and implementation down, so that change cascades through the organization.

4. They encourage ownership by key players.

Large change programs demand ownership by leaders willing to accept responsibility for effecting change in their areas of influence. A primary means of encouraging ownership is by including individuals in the process of identifying and solving problems. Ownership is then reinforced by incentives and rewards.

5. They are committed to clear, regular, timely communication.

The most successful change programs reinforce core messages through clear, regular, timely communication – starting even before the change occurs! At the outset, communications efforts should ideally focus on articulating a convincing need for the change and providing a road map to guide behavior and decision-making. Thereafter, communications materials and forums should be developed not only to push out information, but also to solicit employee input and feedback.

6. They acknowledge the importance of corporate culture.

Cultural diagnostics can assess organizational preparedness for change; identify problems and conflicts, if any; and define external and internal factors that can influence stakeholder reception to change. Findings can then be used to inform and enable program design and decision-making.

7. They prepare for the unexpected.

No change program goes completely according to plan. A successful change management strategy typically prescribes continual reassessment of its impact and the organization’s willingness and ability to adopt the next wave of changes.

8. They support those affected by the change.

Because change is a time of uncertainty, successful change management strategies are typically designed to support those affected by the change by providing opportunities for feedback, training, personal counselling, etc.

 

In the end, one should keep in mind that successful change is, at its core, about relationships and people. Like many dynamics in a company, the existing health of your team as a whole will directly determine the success (or failure) of your change plans. Thus, mastering the human side of change management is key.

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