One of the most difficult things to do as a manager and leader is to implement change and make it successful. Every change needs to result in a different way of working or learning a new behaviour, and no matter how small, humans are resistant to this. So how do you make it easy for your people to change, minimising negative impact on customer and getting up to speed in the shortest possible time?
Whether it’s negative change (downsizing, restructuring, relocating) or positive change (expanding, adding new functions, acquiring), there are some specifics that apply to all change to help the humans who work for us to cope.
Be open and honest: People will always chat, and in the absence of official communication, rumours will abound. When you decide that a change is imminent, build in staged communication to avoid the rumour mill, manage expectations and calm jittery nerves. Even if the information cannot be cascaded to everyone at the same time, at least an official communication channel is open. Even better, make it a two way channel so that your people have somewhere to raise questions and concerns.
Stick to the plan: No-one instigates a change without thinking through how they will implement said change – that much is obvious. But is your plan sufficiently robust? Have you considered all the what-if scenarios that might de-rail your plan? Many changes fall foul of this aspect, and it usually results in some short-term knee-jerk reactions to unplanned scenarios as you attempt to regain control of the change. I never launch a change programme without consulting multiple parties to share thoughts, check all angles and seek an alternative view. It helps that I’m naturally inclined to collaborate with my team, peers and seniors, so seek out those who are receptive to run through the detail and plan for the events that might halt a smooth transition.
Listen to their concerns: Once the details of the change are out in the open, it’s easy to go charging ahead to get things over and done with. Pushing forward the plan without listening and responding to concerns is much more likely to slow the normalisation after the plan. People will resist the change if they don’t feel like they’ve been heard, so adoption of the new habits and practices will happen at a slower than necessary pace. Factor consultation into your plan to avoid this.
Don’t dither: On the flip side, I’ve seem some changes go belly up due to management indecision and dithering. The original plan changing multiple times, details leaking out, backlash from the teams and ultimately a lot of disgruntled employees resulted. The root cause stemmed from the management team who could not agree when and how to make the change. If you have a goal and date by which to achieve the goal, stay focused and work harder to get the buy-in to move forward.
Make the change their own: The most successful changes (such as the recent adoption of Support 2.0 working model at Workshare) happen when the team takes an idea and makes it their own. The outcome you wish to achieve, the deadline and perhaps the measurement of progress is all you need with a relatively mature team. Your roles becomes to guide and support as they create the plan to drive the change. From top to bottom, as each person adds input and value, all build their sense of ownership and responsibility in making the change successful. This gives you more time to be supportive and celebrate the effectiveness of the change with your team.
Review your learnings: All to often, after we’ve delivered a project, we’re running on to the next big thing, not taking time to pause and reflect. What went well? What unexpected events occurred? How confident are you that the change will stick? Has it had a knock-on effect with anything else? What could I do better next time? Take a day to ponder and learn, because the next time you make a major change, you’re bound to be better prepared and more successful!