Organisational change is absolutely necessary for any company looking to evolve with the times and keep up with the competition. Below, we discuss the change management strategies that work for leaders and their teams.
Human beings are naturally creatures of habit and when change snatches us out of this comfort zone, it affects us to our very cores, throwing our brain chemistry off-balance. This in turn sparks the negative feelings of anxiety, fear, depression, sadness, fatigue or anger that usually come with change.
This is why the most successful change management strategies are those that concentrate their effort on influencing human behaviour. Employees are usually the ones most affected by an organisational change, so whether they choose to adopt, delay or resist it has a remarkable effect on its success.
Plans themselves are simply not enough. In fact, according to McKinsey 70 percent of change programs fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support. McKinsey also reports that when people are truly invested in change it is 30 percent more likely to stick.
Successful change management requires careful, intentional alignment of the company’s culture, values, people, and behaviours with the desired change. Leadership teams that fail to take the human side of change into proper consideration often find themselves watching their best-laid plans fall apart.
Here are three examples of organisational change management strategies that work.
Reorient (or reinforce) the company culture
Company culture is a blend of shared history, explicit values, and common behaviours. Organisational change involves creating a new culture (for example, in acquisitions), amalgamating cultures (for example, in mergers), or bolstering existing culture (for example, in long-established companies).
Understanding and identifying the core values, beliefs, opinions and behaviours that must be taken into consideration for successful organisational change to occur is the first step to achieving it. They guide the designing of the crucial corporate infrastructure and programs needed to effect the desired change.
Companies often assess their culture too late into the change (or don’t bother at all) and yet change programs pick up speed and intensity as they flow down through the hierarchy. This is why it’s crucial for leaders to understand and take into consideration the culture at every level of the organisation.
Diagnosing company culture shows how ready the organisation is for the desired change and brings to light the potential sources of conflict/resistance beforehand. It also helps identify the key cultural leaders at each level of the organisation that can influence their peers to adopt the new changes easily.
Once the culture is understood, leaders should be unequivocal about the necessary behaviours for the new way of doing things, and find opportunities to model and reward those behaviours. For example, establishing a culture of perpetual improvement can help employees bear the inevitable upheaval that comes with organisational change much better.
They will see the frustrations of adopting new ways of working as necessary growing pains that are aligned with their new values of continuous upgrading.
Find a good balance of incentives and authority
Walking the fine line between proposing incentives and exercising authority is another one of the most effective change management strategies. It’s the age-old method of using “the carrot and the stick”.
It is important to offer incentives (“the carrot) that will tap into employees’ own self-interest and encourage them to adopt the new direction of the company.
Employee recognition programs and rewards should be tied to specific actions and behaviours that have been identified as part of the necessary cultural change required to effect the desired organisational change. These incentives also remind the employees that their leaders appreciate their efforts in this difficult time of transition.
However, for some critically urgent parts of this change, it’s important for leaders to exercise their authority (“the stick”) to overcome employees’ resistance and get them to follow new standards and processes.
This coercive strategy can easily breed resentment but is the fastest way to implement change that is a matter of survival to the organisation when there is no time to slowly incentivise it.
For example, a manufacturing company looking to quickly increase production can use a blend of new incentives (such as bonus pay and recognition) for employees who meet the new quotas and new penalties for behaviours that work against them (such as clocking in late or taking extra-long breaks).
Never stop communicating
It’s not enough to communicate the change at the start and then assume everyone has bought into it. Too often, change leaders fall into the trap of convincing themselves that others see the vision as clearly as they do so they feel that a one-time announcement of change is sufficient to get everyone on board.
In fact, lack of communication was identified by the Where Change Management Fails study from Robert Half Management Resources as the key factor behind why many organizational change initiatives fail. The study surveyed 300 senior managers at U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.
When asked, “Where do most change-management efforts commonly fail?” only 10 percent of the respondents surveyed in the research said “strategy development” while 46 percent said “execution.”
Furthermore, when asked, “What is most important when leading your company or team through a major change?” 65 percent of respondents answered “communicating clearly and frequently” – far outdistancing “managing expectations” at 16 percent and “outlining goals” at just 9 percent.
Regular, timely communication flowing in both directions from the top to the bottom of the corporate hierarchy through multiple channels is therefore another one of the most important change management strategies.
For example, in the late 1990s, the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Charles O. Rossotti, was determined to turn the dreaded bureaucracy into a top-tier service organisation but with more than 100,000 employees, this change was no easy task to undertake.
On top of the necessary systems and processes overhauls, he pulled it off by maintaining a steady stream of communications throughout the change program. This stream included daily voice mails from himself and other top IRS staff, training sessions, videotapes, newsletters, and town hall meetings.
Organisational change, no matter how big or small, is often a stressful time for employees at every level of the company. This is why it’s very important to have effective change management strategies in place during this very sensitive time.
As explained with the examples above, company culture, employee motivation and strong communication are the keys to ensuring that your change doesn’t go off the rails.