Disruptions in the business and technological landscape make it important to not only embrace change, but to do so with agility and alacrity. The implications for HR leadership are many, since changes in the business organization often need to be mirrored in people management practices. Whether the changes are related to business or people practices, all change is fundamentally driven by people at various levels in management. Thus, the people side of change management is pivotal to the success of any large scale change program.
Change management efforts are really journeys taken over a period of time and at a large scale, touching several individuals, units and geographies. This is undertaken at huge costs and most reports state only a 30 to 40% success rate. The key reason for this is a sub-optimal approach to the strategy and execution of the change management efforts.
Here are 5 key elements related to the people dimension of change management which, in my experience, which lay the foundation for a successful transition experience:
1. Compelling Leadership Vision – leaders lead the change and with a sense of urgency
Change by its very nature is complex. In order to invest efforts, people need to see merit in the exercise and tangible outcomes. A compelling vision statement evangelized by top leadership serves 2 key purposes:
a. it demonstrates top leadership clarity on the end-goal, commitment and support through the transition period
b. It helps stakeholders align and mobilize resources towards a common goal. The vision serves as a guiding post for all big and small interventions to be taken through the change journey
Besides, since transitions are times of heightened sensitivity amongst employees, a compelling vision and its effective communication are important aspects of change initiation efforts.
In addition, clear statement of objectives helps architect the change management program, structure interventions meaningfully and also helps evaluate the end outcomes.
2. Communication: Demystify, build trust, engage and co-create for shared ownership
From the very start, employees need to know and understand the challenges being posed to the organization and possibly to their jobs. They also need to feel involved and engaged through the process of change. Through all stages of the change management process, demystification and building a shared understanding of the situation helps avoid rumors through the grapevine and build trust between management and employees. A well-crafted communication strategy builds a platform for consistent and constant engagement with employees.
A common pitfall to avoid is to confront the difficult questions upfront. This not only addresses the issue but also helps allay fears employees may have. They would then focus on listening to the heart of the content that you have to convey.
Communicate through various media – live in-person connects with leadership, updated video content streamed through internal channels or use of live chats and social media for a global reach. Communicate with all segments of your population. Give employees a tangible sense of the proposed change and if feasible, co-create the future. This will ensure not just buy-in, but active involvement and ownership; which is at the heart of sustaining the change.
3. Comprehensive and time-bound approach: keep the big picture in mind
The change management strategy needs to account for changes that would take place in all dimensions – policy, systems and people mindsets & organization culture – and over a period of time. A series of well-connected measures prior to, during and post the change rolled out, is required for a seamless transition.
Prior to the change, a detailed study of prevailing culture and beliefs needs to be undertaken. Aspects which may derail or sabotage change efforts needs to be identified and managed early on. Co-creation of the solution is yet another good practice which later ensures high levels of acceptance and adoption. During the change efforts, have leadership connect with employees and lead from the front. Ensure every individual knows what is expected of him/her and is assisted and enabled throughout. Reward early adopters of change and enlist them as change evangelists. A formal and robust transition support structure ensures that employees are hand-held through the process both physically and emotionally. Challenges if any can be spotted early on and the necessary course corrections could be made in a timely manner.
Crisp time-lines with clear outcomes would bring best results to your change management efforts.
4. Badge: Recognize and reward
Change Management and the transition requires helping stakeholders stay positive through turbulent and uncertain times. Stakeholders need to `feel good’ and enjoy the process of change. Since regular operations may be impacted due to altered processes and systems, it is important to periodically demonstrate the value generated by the alterations made and also reward the results.
Exciting rewards and public recognition of early adopters i.e those embracing change early on; sends a strong message through the organization. It also makes the efforts of the early adopters `worthwhile’. Role Models are required through the organization and at all levels.
Chart rewards across a `contribution maturity’ continuum. Thus, early on, simple participation to an awareness/ training session could be rewarded, and as the program is well underway, the demonstrated results from adoption of the interventions could be rewarded. Keeping the process simple may be the most effective strategy.
5. Future-proof your change management program: prepare for the unexpected
Agility to respond in the first place, and to continue to fine-tune and drive the agenda is of utmost importance. While the change management program may be charted at a point in time, over months there is the risk of dwindling interest, change of leadership or business priorities, changing technology for example, that might impact the adoption or sustenance of the efforts. A good strategy would ensure that the program management follows the Agile methodology, and its results and possible risks are constantly reviewed and kept in tune with the current reality.
Change is led from the top. It is empathy, and a people oriented approach which will go a long way in ensuring a successful transition.