I was talking with one of my favorite clients the other day when he asked me a great question. He asked, “Michael, why is getting change executed so doggone difficult?” I had to agree that he is right and that for most managers and leaders, executing change positively, is pretty doggone difficult. As we discussed the reasons why change is so tough to implement and execute I realized I should and could try to create a concise primer on how to lead your team through change. Here it is:
Step One – Realize That Change Means Doing Something: This may seem obvious, but often people are tempted to believe that change will just happen on its own because when the sun comes up tomorrow, things are going to magically become better and different. Not so. If you want change to happen, you are going to need to make something happen, get outside of your comfort zone and do something different than the status quo. So, start with the realization that the status quo is NOT what you want, and create a real, clear image of the desired state that you are going to work toward with your change management activities.
Step Two – Figure Out the Size and Scope: Get specific about what you need to change and why. The more specific you and your team can be about what needs to change and how big a change it is going to be, the better, in my experience. Little changes are obviously easier to implement, and bigger changes are going to take longer, and take a more thoughtful and resilient approach over a period of time. It’s best to spend some time on size and scope before you begin to plan your change.
Step Three – Identify the Timeline for Change: Changes take time, and they involve a challenge to people’s current reality. Adjustment to the change is difficult for many of the members of your team and is easier for some others. Immediate changes are tougher to implement than longer duration changes and give you less time to help your team adjust. Factor the timeframe into your change management planning and make sure that you carefully consider how you’re going to help your people to adjust to the new reality.
Step Four – Identify Tactics: As you implement and execute the change, will you employ a phased approach or go all in in one fell swoop? How will you communicate the changes and who will communicate those changes? As you determine the BEST way to implement the changes you must select the most efficacious techniques to execute and you must have a matching communication strategy so that all of your associates know what is changing, when, and most importantly why? Don’t forget to accelerate adoption of the changes by explaining the benefits of the change in the short term, the mid-term and also the long term. Unless the change is going to make things better, why would anyone support it?
Step Five – Determine Accountability and Ownership: Who owns what? Who decides what changes are necessary? Who will own the actions required for implementing and maintaining the changes once the change action plan begins? Be clear about accountability and ownership so that everyone knows what to expect and build measurements and reporting structures into your change so that everyone will be able to monitor the changes as they begin and develop all the way to completion and the inevitable celebration.
Step Six – Plan for and Overcome Resistance: Most changes involve some level of uncertainty and often outright resistance to the change. A significant number of your people may conclude that the change is unnecessary or worse. You MUST anticipate that resistance will appear and you need to think about where it may show itself. Expect some level of resistance and develop a proactive plan to address it and turn the naysayers into avid supporters by providing them with the reasons that the change makes sense. If the change doesn’t make sense, be open-minded about changing the plan.
Step Seven – Measuring Progress and Adjusting Course: Assume that change is a journey that involves the ongoing monitoring of the process from start to successful conclusion. Along the way, you should anticipate some challenges that must be addressed, even some problems that must be overcome. Be prepared to quickly analyze any challenges and problems and take corrective actions along the journey, or you’ll be flat-footed and reacting defensively. When you anticipate challenges, you are often much more nimble in addressing them, because your emotions are in check. Leverage your leadership ability to build a culture that expects positive change and embraces it when it appears. By making the best decisions about the hiccups that appear when you’re managing change, you will inspire trust and confidence in your associates and build that positive change culture that makes change easier.
Change is a challenge for many companies and many managers and leaders. Like anything else, reacting to change when you’re unprepared is not a recipe for great success. On the other hand, expecting change to require some solid planning, some proactive decision-making, some timely cascading of important communications, and a few wise course corrections, is a better approach. You can follow this simple primer to help you to make strategic changes happen in your organization and enjoy the experience. The key is to work hard to develop a solid plan, and then work the plan with intelligence.
Michael Beach is an agent of change for his clients in the business world. Michael strives to guide his clients to deliver transformational change for their organizations, the kind of changes that make a lasting positive impact on culture, engagement, and predictable results. If you and your organization are struggling to manage change positively, reach out to Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he’ll provide you with a no cost-no obligation consultation designed to help you identify the most potent actions you could take to begin making change happen on your terms. You can do it, and all you have to do is to take one step…