change management

As I write this post, the USA has just voted in its new President. For the US people – and the world – we are about to enter into a period of significant change.

Shouldn’t it come naturally?

When I first started my HR career, I was slightly baffled by the concept of ‘managing change’ as an isolated event. Surely organisations were in a constant state of change? Wasn’t managing that ongoing change part of what being a manager was all about?

Well, yes, it probably is… but that doesn’t automatically mean that managers and leaders know how to do it effectively or to ensure that the right outcome is achieved. Organisational change can be a difficult process to get right, and can massively destabilise a business and distract from the achievement of goals and objectives if not handled correctly.

Guaranteeing success

There are however certain basic principles which, if followed, will pretty much guarantee a successful change management process. Here are my five top secrets of successful change management:

#1 Communicate

Communicate, communicate, communicate some more, and then communicate again. If you do nothing else, do this. Think of the amount of communication you anticipate you need to do to inform the organisation of the proposed change and implement it successfully. Double it. Double it again. And multiply it by five for good measure. There are few things in life which you cannot have enough of, but I honestly believe that communication is one of them.

Remember, too, that while you may have been planning your proposed change for months, if not years, and are familiar with every intimate detail of your plan, for your audience, this is brand new information. Don’t rush your communications. Ensure that they are targeted, specific, and tell that particular audience exactly what they need to know. And then repeat them. Make them available for people to go back to and review, once they have had an opportunity to take in the initial message. Employees need time to process not just the scope of the proposed change, but then understand how it personally affects them.

Don’t forget, too, that communication needs to be a two-way process. Top down communication is all very well, but if you don’t provide an opportunity for your employees to come back, challenge, and ask questions, then issues will start to fester and blockers to your change will start to go up all over the organisation. The aim of any set of communication should be to get your employees feeling both informed and comfortable with the planned change. If you haven’t achieved that, ahead of the change itself, then your communication strategy has failed.

#2 Plan

Successful change processes all have one thing in common, and that’s the planning process behind them. Change cannot be rushed. You must ensure that your rationale is sound and that you have truly worked through all possible pitfalls and outcomes. Failure to plan will almost certainly lead to a failure to successfully implement your change.

Planning can often take a bit of a back seat, as the emphasis is on the move to the new state of being, not the process to get there. As HR professionals, we have a responsibility to our organisation to ensure that the planning process isn’t forgotten about, and is fully thought through.

#3 Project manage

Change management is simply one big project, and arguably the most important project that an organisation will undertake. Why, then, we don’t generally give it the due diligence it needs in the form of a dedicated project manager is something of a mystery.

To be clear, I’m not necessarily saying that a qualified project manager is required – although in the case of the very largest change management projects, this would likely be sensible – but someone in the change working group needs to ensure the project milestones are clearly laid out and achieved to deadline. Without this, stages of the process get missed, communications fall down, and the success of the project is put at jeopardy.

#4 Measure and review

As you work through the stages of your change management project, don’t forget to review its success. If, as part of the planning process, you have identified key success metrics for each stage of the project, you can easily measure success, and adapt your project plan accordingly if further intervention is necessary to achieve your milestones.

If, on the other hand, you blithely race through the project focused solely on the finish line… the chances of your change being implemented successfully are almost non-existent.

Incidentally, the measuring and review process shouldn’t stop at the point of implementation. A really successful change process ensures consistent opportunities for review well beyond the implementation date, to ensure that it is truly embedded and being lived at all levels within the organisation.

#5 Learn

At risk of stating the blindingly obvious here… we must see each and every change management process as an opportunity to learn. Each time we learn, we refine what we do, and each time we do so, we increase the chances of the success the next time we are required to implement change. Find a way of capturing these learnings and sharing them with other teams and other managers around the business. The most agile organisations must continuously embrace change, and ensuring that your managers and leaders are equipped to successfully manage this change is a fundamental factor in business success.