Driving Change in Your Organization

Managing any change effort requires thoughtful preparation, careful implementation, and reinforcement. Successful change management strategies create an informed, empowered, and engaged workforce. In fact, recent studies indicate that organizations that are highly effective at change management are significantly more likely to continue to exhibit new behaviors and use new skills after changes are made.

Assess. Successful change starts with understanding the current state of your workforce. Through focus groups or employee surveys, you can determine your audience's readiness for change. This will also help neutralize any myths or assumptions about how a workforce might react to a change.

Prepare. Careful preparation is key to any change effort.

This phase involves:
• Gain executive support – Change will only be successful when you have buy-in from leadership. Support from key stakeholders will ensure the new behaviors become part of the organization's culture, not just another item on the 'to-do' list.
• Determine the desired future state – Knowing where you want to end up will help you develop the strategy for achieving your vision for change.
• Develop the strategy for change – List your goals for the change and recognize the differences among your audiences and messages. A structured facilitation approach to developing this strategy can often yield the quickest results.

Create. Communications and change management work together to influence employee behaviors, and when both are done well there is a stronger relationship to increased productivity and financial performance.

Consider the following as you begin implementing change:
• Draft clear, concise communications so employees understand your message and take action. The words that are written or spoken about a particular change effort really do make a difference.
• Design materials that reinforce your employer brand. Include impactful graphics to tie complex messages together. Try using pictures rather than words, to explain a complex message.
• Use a variety of communication channels to reach all of your audiences. Just as in food or car choices, employees prefer to receive information in different ways. Consider web-based media, print materials, and personalized communications.
• Conduct training to prepare your organization to deliver the communications consistently, effectively, and efficiently. Managers and leaders are more important than ever in delivering effective communications to drive change.

Reinforce. Any behavior change takes time and reinforcement. As employees begin to embrace change and move toward the "new normal," re-survey or gather anecdotal evidence to determine whether you need to revise your strategy or repeat successful key messages. By developing a plan to reward adoption of new behaviors, you can reduce the risk of employees reverting to old patterns.

How can you encourage organizational alignment across all employees?
Unless leaders openly embrace change, employees never will. Executives must build the case for change and help employees connect with new ideas by modeling the way. In fact, the perception of a double standard can foster an unhealthy 'us versus them' mentality and cause employees to resist a beneficial change.

When should employers consider change management activities?
No matter how big or small the change ahead, effective change management processes can have a significantly positive impact on your overall chances for success. As soon as a problem or opportunity for change is identified, a change expert should be brought into the picture. Companies who involve the change management and communications team earlier in the process will have better change adoption rates.

How do you make sure a change management process is considered early in the vision of a change?
If you want to get involved with a group of leaders that wants change, the first step is to understand the business reason for the change. You can then begin to think through the impact this change will have on employees. With a well-articulated strategy that offers a clear return-on-investment, you will have the attention of leadership. A key component in this strategy is measurable outcomes. With these metrics to guide your path, you can present a model to help implement a successful change.

How do you overcome the skepticism or fear around change?
It's important not to ignore cynicism or fear. Ask questions about why employees are feeling this way. Once you understand the basis for the emotions, you can determine what course of action to take. You may consider making minor adjustments to the change, or adjust the timeline to implement certain aspects of the change to make it easier for employees to accept. At the very least, understanding the fear will help you create better communications and answer questions. Also, keep in mind that involving a few vocal resisters in the change efforts can often yield huge results. With their involvement, they can develop a better understanding of why the change is happening and accept the new way more quickly.

How do you create an open dialogue about the change?
When you are managing change, you need to keep listening. Though focus groups and surveys are discussed during the initial assessment phase of the process, it's important to continue to keep a pulse on the organization as you start rolling out communications or implementing new systems. Encourage leaders to walk around and talk to employees about the changes. Provide those leaders with key questions and make sure they can provide timely responses to employee concerns. There are also a number of technology solutions that can be used to encourage open discussion at all levels of your organization.

What are some mistakes companies make when implementing change?
Companies who try to "sell" change as a way to simply speed up "agreement" will crash and burn. Change needs to be understood and managed in a way that employees can effectively cope with the change. Organizations – and their managers leading the change – should ensure that affected employees understand the need for the change. And more importantly, what will happen if the change is not made.