Change Management - Foundations (I)

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author picture Article written by Luc De Jaeger

Like it or not, we live in a very fast-changing world. Factors driving organizational changes can be either external or internal. High volatility and rapid fluctuation are powerful market trends in a context of digitalization and uberization. Organizations are striving not only to adapt but also to improve performance and maximize customer value. Doing more with less has been the motto for the last years, one that comes with substantial challenges as it puts additional strain on collaborators. 

Stepping into the unknown and getting everyone on board is not an easy task. Uncertainty breeds anxiety and resistance. Left unanswered, this issue translates into even more risks and costs. Resistance is often cited as one of the top obstacles to project success. A compelling message clearly stating the reasons why the organization has to change may pave the way to success. Storytelling is part of the journey.

Crafting a compelling message.
Of course, not one situation is exactly the same as the other. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for a given organization to become more responsive and maintain its competitive edge in an ever-changing landscape. But whatever the drivers for change and the unique characteristics of the transformational challenges at stake – that is to say, your “why” –, a good communication plan is a key element of the transition. 

Because they are urged to think ahead, leaders tend to bypass this crucial first step. A common mistake is to concentrate efforts on designing and implementing “the solution” from the get-go. It is very tempting to over-allocate resources to the development of the “best” solution. Unfortunately, any plan primarily focusing on the technical side is bound to fail or produce unsustainable results. When communication falls on the wayside, people have no time to internalize the change and make it their own. This is where Change Management (CM) comes into play. The ADKAR method for individual change breaks down the process into a sequence of five major steps, namely Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement. It comes as no surprise that the first milestone is to raise awareness (A) of change across the organization. A carefully crafted and cohesive narrative is the best tool to cultivate awareness and catalyze people’s support. With a significant impact on how fast the solution is adopted and how proficiently it is utilized, an inspiring and unified story will save you massive amounts of time and energy down the line.

Choosing the right channel.
The first major obstacle to transformational efforts thus comes from the very top of the organization. Leadership disengagement and lack of visibility is by far the most common issue. Business messages are expected to be released from the top leaders and senior management. Too much delegating and/or disappearing after initiatives are kicked off ruins it all. Communication all too often takes the form of a one-shot event, be it a “grand mass” or kick-off event. This type of campaign fails to get the message across. Studies show that any message should be repeated between 5 up to 7 times  (PROSCI research) for it to “stick” in people’s minds. Leadership alignment around the same message and unwavering commitment to promote its diffusion is thus crucial to ensuring a smooth transition. 

While senior managers are expected to convey the vision, direct line managers should be the ones in charge of cascading the message and getting the staff on board. Proximity is crucial to lay the foundations for the envisioned future. When collaborators do not “feel” the need to change or are exposed to too many changes at a time, resistance levels skyrocket and crystallize. Unfortunately, change saturation is becoming quite common. Yet, human and budgetary resources devoted to ensuring a smooth transition are often inadequate. These are usually the first ones to disappear in an effort to cut down on expenses. Front-line agents and managers cannot reasonably be expected to transform their routines without any guidance. When managing the human side of change is not recognized as an essential part of transformational endeavors, productivity declines, absenteeism increases and clients feel the impact. In a sense, part of the challenge comes down to encouraging in-depth discussions with each and every collaborator. The process of aligning the change with personal interests starts with allowing the people to get a firm grasp of “what’s in there” for them.  

Change management is first and foremost a matter of internal change.
Change management is not a matter of bringing an army of consultants into the organization. It is about operating internal changes, raising change awareness and developing CM skills at every level of the organization. Numbers talk for themselves. Roughly 80% -100% of expected benefits and improvements depend on how people transform their working routines. Change management is precisely the art of changing one person at time. People have to own the change and leaders owe them the elements to do so. Together with a structured approach to the people side of change, a compelling message repeated on a regular basis through the right channel is the surest way to accelerate the speed of adoption of the solution and multiplies per 6 your chances of successful projects.

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