How positively or negatively your employees feel about the experience of change is largely influenced by the leadership underpinning it.  No pressure, then!  Here’s our take on why keeping employee engagement and goal alignment front of mind is the only recipe for successful change management. 

Change.  It’s a scary word when it is used in the context of the workplace.  Whatever the intention behind it, there’s a risk that employees read only the negative into it, resulting in catastrophic fantasies of mass redundancies, performance discussions and general disruption to the status quo. Hence, change is often met with more of an air of anxious hand wringing than enthusiastic fist pumping.  But, there’s a critical window of opportunity in the early stages of any change process – an opportunity to involve your people, align their personal goals with your corporate vision, and engage them enthusiastically in the process. Getting it right at that stage will set the tone for a trajectory towards success and organisational improvement, versus one that is destined for the corporate equivalent of self-harm.  The bottom line is that when you impose change on people it will never be as effective as when you involve them in the process. You have to do it with them, not to them, and it is surprising how often this small, but important detail gets forgotten.

There really is no such thing as ‘the definitive guide to implementing change’.  That’s because every organisation, every situation, every workforce and every leader is different.  But there are a few fundamental guiding principles that can help set every change management process off on the right track (and keep it there), both strategically and culturally.

Change Management: 7 Key Considerations For Leaders

1. Where are we going?

It’s so simple and obvious, but it would be remiss of us to mention it at the top of the checklist!  In implementing change you’ll presumably have a clear outcome in mind.  Don’t assume that everyone will have the same clarity unless you unequivocally communicate it from the outset.  Whether your intention is to achieve 20% more sales, reduce employee turnover by 10%, or cut operating costs by 40%, make sure your army of employees is marching in the right direction towards that goal!

2. Why are we going there?

To the leadership team it may seem obvious. You’ve probably discussed it to death over the boardroom table, mapped it all out, and are ready to get the master plan under way. Maybe you’ve identified some ‘wrinkles’ in the business that you’ve decided to iron out through change.  Perhaps you’ve spotted some unexploited opportunities worth grasping, but to achieve that will require some adaptation. Maybe you’re merging, diversifying, expanding for sound business reasons. Whatever the catalyst for change, you’re engaged with the idea, enthused by the end goal, and ready to stop strategizing and start acting.  Just one teeny detail. You can’t do it alone. You need to engage your troops and get them behind the purpose of the mission.  When (as inevitably will be the case at some point along the way) the going gets a little rough, it will be this sense of unified purpose that will make the difference between mutiny and loyalty.

3. How will we get there?

Winning the hearts and minds of your workforce is one thing, and if you’ve achieved their buy in to the concept of change then you’re a long way towards making it happen.  However, it’s nothing more than a pipe dream if you don’t back all that enthusiasm up with a clear plan of action.  Back to the military analogy: no battles are won simply by instructing troops to invade and sending them on their way.  They need resources, clear roles and duties, proper training, timescales, and a full support infrastructure behind the battle-lines.  Anything less would be chaos, and doomed to failure. Back in the workplace, it’s just the same.  Your people might well agree (or at least understand) that change needs to happen.  In other words, they’re emotionally engaged. But if, in practical terms they’re ill-equipped and under prepared for it, they will soon lose faith in your ability to lead that change effectively in practice. You need to consider structure, processes, resources and timing. Think about the short, medium and long term, because changing your business is a process of evolution, not an overnight intervention, and you will need to be adroit enough to adapt with it.

4. What will success look like?

The clearer you can be with regards to this the better.  As with any objective, the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound) acronym applies.  Do your expectations measure up in all these areas? If not, you will quickly lose the motivation of the very people you are reliant upon to achieve the change you set out to make.

5. What don’t we plan on changing?

As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Implementing change will sometimes come with some tough decisions and unpopular adaptations.  Short term pain for long term gain.  But you don’t need to throw all the balls in the air, and your team may take a huge amount of reassurance in knowing as much about what will be staying the same as about what will be changing.  Think ‘start, stop, continue’.  What will you implement that is new, what will you dispense with that is obsolete, and what, equally importantly will you commit to keeping the same (for the simple reason that it works just fine as it is)?

6. What support will be in place?

Change is a learning curve for everyone, and can stretch people to the extremities of their comfort zone.  That’s true whether you’re a manager or a team member.  Your management staff will need to know exactly how you will support them to step beyond their day to day line management or project management duties, and enable them to become agents for change.  As for your employees – they will doubtless have concerns, questions or reservations, on the one hand, as well as ideas, solutions and suggestions, on the other.  None of this is a problem, provided that people don’t feel they’ve been left to ‘muddle through’ on their own.  Consider creating specific roles throughout the period of change, with responsibilities for ‘championing’ particular aspects of the change process.  This will have the multiple effect of streamlining communication, involving and engaging key team members, and creating an important link between the theoretical strategy and the actual impact at the coalface.  Any problems or hitches should quickly rise to the surface, enabling you, as a leader, to respond quickly and effectively before they escalate out of proportion.

7. How will communication work during the process of change?

Trust is a badge that is earned, not given.  During times of business change, trust can be one of the most fragile casualties of the process.  Typically, loss of trust in leadership arises when communication has been either scant, or, worse still, dishonest.  Transparency is by far and away the best approach.  Be honest about what will happen, might happen and won’t happen.  Make the boundaries and goals clear. If the goalposts shift, gather your people together and tell them how and why. Invite comment and opinion (provided you are prepared to respond and react to it appropriately), and involve and engage your people where it is feasibly possible to do so.  Embrace feedback, encourage input, and never be arrogant enough to assume that others (at any level in the business) can’t contribute positively to the process, nor too proud to perform a U-turn if your best laid plans don’t work in practice.

The WinningFormula For Alignment & Change

When business leaders talk about implementing change, they’ve usually got either business strategy or workplace culture at the forefront of that change. At great{with}talent, we believe that one impacts the other, and that’s why we believe strongly that no business should embark on change (whether strategic or cultural) without conducting a holistic assessment of all the factors driving (or holding back) organisational performance.  After all, you can’t effect successful cultural change without addressing some key aspects of strategy, structure and process.  Nor can you make seismic shifts in the corporate strategy without some impact on the team environment and the approach to leadership.  The key questions are these: where do you start, what changes will make the biggest positive impact most quickly, and how can you ensure that your best asset (your workforce) is fully engaged with the new organisational direction, aligned with its goals, and motivated & equipped to turn vision into reality?  That’s why we’ve developed The WinningFormula, a holistic assessment of your business strategy and culture, which delivers insight into what is important in the context of your organisation and your people. It gathers opinion from the heart of the business, providing meaningful feedback and resulting in prioritised action lists so that you know exactly what to address, in what way and in what order, to achieve rapid results and maximum impact.  Contact us today for a more detailed conversation about how we can help support change in your business.