Why is it that every time an organisation needs to change a computer system or introduce a new structure, they call in the 'change management' team? It's a bit like calling in the 'Ghost Busters'. What are their expectations? What picture do they have in their minds when they give the instruction to find a change management consultancy? There are numerous myths and misnomers surrounding the concept of change management, which need to be tackled before any meaningful change or transformation can be implemented.
Firstly, people do not mind change. We live and experience change every day. Today is a different day to yesterday, the price of petrol goes up and down, we get older, we go grey... we are living with change. So, what's the big deal when it comes to change in companies? Often, change isn't introduced in a friendly and accessible manner. It is imposed, which automatically creates resentment and resistance. So here are a few golden rules to guide successful change management within your company:
1. Take your people with you on the journey. Do not spend weeks talking about where you are going (as an executive team), decide on what the destination looks like – and then expect your people to be at your destination. It's like going on holiday, swimming in the warm sea and then coming home to tell your friend who has never been to the sea what it was like, and expect him to be as tanned as you are!
2. Avoid pushing everyone forward so quickly that you spend no time reflecting on progress, thoughts and attitudes as you move along. We often force our people on the journey. We put them on the train, we tell them where we're going and then when they are lost or confused, we become frustrated.
3. The most important thing to change when you want your business to change direction or work with different energy is their goals. People need to see how the change impacts them directly. “What do you want me to do and how will that look for me and for the company?”
4. If you are the change leader, you need to breathe deeply. Remember that people have been doing things a certain way for years and suddenly you arrive and announce 'time to change' – that approach does not work anymore. People do not mind change as long as it does not happen to them. The cognitive reasons for change make sense, but the translation from cognitive realisation to behavioural implementation is a long, hard, upward slog that requires many conversations and plenty of debate. The way you structure these conversations will be critical.
Along with the 'softer' side of change management, three researchers (Sirkin, Keenan & Jackson) from the Harvard Business School believe it is also important to pay attention to the 'hard side of change management'. According to them, these factors have three distinct characteristics: companies are able to measure them in direct or indirect ways; companies can easily communicate their importance, both within and outside organisations; and lastly, businesses are capable of influencing those elements quickly. They give these factors the label of DICE:
D. The duration of time until the change programme is completed, if it has a short life span; if not short, the amount of time between reviews of milestones.
I. The project team's performance integrity; that is, its ability to complete the initiative on time. That depends on members' skills and traits relative to the project's requirements.
C. The commitment to change that top management (C1) and employees affected by the change (C2) display.
E. The effort over and above the usual work that the change initiative demands of employees.
Avoid using the word 'change'. Rather focus on talking about your customers, what they need, and how to deliver more effectively than your competitors. Also, have continuous discussions that focus on reflecting on what we are doing versus where we need to go. Language plays a huge role here. Choose your words wisely, and ensure they are clear and meaningful. Avoid words like: “We need to strive to change” or: “Our future vision needs to meet our customers' needs.” People cannot 'taste' what you are saying. Be specific, and paint a picture that can be seen and touched.
By Grace Harding
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