We live in a world where “business as usual” means change. Change is inevitable, be it in the organisation or our lives. But only some are successful in managing change while others falter. And to win in business, its essential not only to have a distinguishing strategy but also an effective change management process that helps minimise the resistance to change.
As a manager you are confronted with the change everyday in the form of new initiatives technology improvements or project based work. The knowledge of how people react to change will definitely help in leading your team more effectively through the change process.
People go through the following stages before change becomes the “new normal” :
- Shock or denial
- Anger, fear
- Acceptance of change
One of the most important tools for successful change management is the implementation of a well-planned communication strategy. Effective change communication reduces resistance and can help increase optimism about the change process. The converse is also true – poorly planned and executed communication will heighten the resistance and increase stress. Some of the key elements of this aspect are the “What”, “How”, “Who”, “When” of communication. Here’s a look at these aspects:
What to communicate
The most important element to be communicated is the reason for change. It’s important to explain how the change affects and benefits the organisation and the individuals involved. Though employees will be broadly interested in how the change affects the organization, answer to the question, “what’s in it for me?” is very crucial for them.
When to communicate
The time chosen to communicate change could make the difference between successful transition and a failed attempt. Especially when an organization is about to go through some major change (merger, acquisition, downsizing) the rumour mills start working overtime very early. It’s crucial to communicate as early as possible and with the right amount of information. While all questions may not have answers, its crucial to have some information else this communication will lead to more panic rather than alleviating fears amongst the employees.
How to communicate
Experts say that change should be communicated using multiple platforms to impart the same message – this could be through an organisation-wide address by the C-level leadership team, town hall meetings, conferences, mails, presentations, intranet, social media – the options today are endless. However there is a difference between making information available and actually communicating it and in such stressful situations nothing can replace face-to-face communication.
While the C-level team may communicate the initial change, the next level of communication needs to be undertaken by the immediate managers. The organisation needs to however ensure that the team managers are in well equipped to discuss the changes with their team. To that effect, a session of the managers with one or more senior leaders who can address their concerns and questions may be required.
Managing resistance to change
As a manager, you are the one who bears the brunt of the team’s resistance to change. Whatever the change – whether it is a small change of a single process or a system wide change employees are bound to feel intimidated and uneasy about it. Here’s a look at some of the aspects of the change management strategy that you can concentrate your efforts on to make the process less painful:
- Short term wins: Nothing motivates people better than success. Its essential to create opportunities for short term wins thus making it easier to showcase the benefits of the change. Often the overall change process promises benefits in the long term. At times this may take such a long time that employees get frustrated and may abandon ship before the advantages are seen. This makes it essential to highlight the short term milestones, achieve them and celebrate the success.
- Constant Communication: Regular communication with the team regarding their reactions to the change proves to be effective mechanism to minimise resistance. Constant communication also enables the manager to identify the “early adopters” and the “internal saboteurs” to the process. The key is to use the “early adopters” to help spread the optimism and help keep the mood upbeat. The channel of open communication gives people the opportunity to ask questions, share concerns, offer ideas and feedback. Since the feedback and the ideas come from the people who actually use the processes extensively, it is relevant and could prevent an organization from making costly mistakes.
- Break down Jargon: Jargon not only confuses employees, it’s also treated with skepticism and may cause employees to regard the change initiative as a one off flash-in-the-pan scheme. Explain clearly to the team what exactly they will be doing differently and how the process will help get better results.
- Be a “Change Leader”: Your role as a manager is to effectively sell the change process to your team. Before convincing others you yourself need to be convinced about the benefits, else the team can sense your discomfort. Ensure your managers address your concerns about the change process in advance. In short convert yourself into a “Change Leader” for the team as well as the organisation.
- Customize the message: Employees at various levels in the organisation view change differently. What people expect and need from the change initiative can vary depending on their career stage. This makes customization of the change communication important. Again this becomes the task of the team leader who can customise the message most effectively for his team members.
In conclusion, change will never be comfortable for employees. As managers, it’s our responsibility to make the transition as smooth as possible, help the team see the benefits and hope that our team members hop on and enjoy the ride. Most importantly we ourselves need to embrace the change and like Mahatma Gandhi said – “Be the change you want to see in the world”
Head of Training and Development