How to Approach Change Management: Wanting Vs. Willingness to Change

Risk Management | Business Management & Strategy

Often times when an organization is approaching a new direction that impacts individuals and teams, HR is tasked with the responsibility of change management. 

Change management can be something as small as a new process or policy change to a larger scale approach such as a new strategy, executive leadership or an acquisition. It tends to involve development, planning, communications and full-scale implementation, along with keeping a pulse check on the behaviors and beliefs of the employees experiencing change.

This is frequently an area where my clients rely on me to help because they can't risk the success of the situation. There are critical factors that must be addressed in order to effectively introduce and gain wide acceptance of future plans. 

Six Steps to Effective Change Management

Below are six steps to change management that can facilitate smooth transitions:

  1. Communicate: Take the time. Do not underestimate the importance of communication.  Plan intentionally to share information at appropriate intervals in order to build trust and maintain transparency.
  2. Avoid Hoarding Knowledge: It’s extremely important to keep managers in the loop wherever possible. If no harm comes from sharing information, then do so. Middle management buy-in is the key to obtaining cooperation from general staff. Nothing destroys morale faster than a disgruntled manager, disinterested in company initiatives after being left out of the communication loop one too many times.
  3. Plan Ahead: You cannot eliminate the rumor mill, but you can control the conversation- if you carve out a lead. Plan communications in stages, hold informational sessions and ask managers to check in with staff to address issues and concerns…be open to that feedback.
  4. Acknowledge Pain Points: Change is not equal. Making the decision to introduce top-down change and being on the receiving end of those decisions are very different experiences. Sensitivity to that is imperative. Lack thereof may result in high turnover, reduced morale, and decreases in productivity.  Change is difficult, don’t gloss over that, especially if the impact will have challenging consequences or increases in workload.
  5. Listen: It’s important that employees have a voice. Change is much easier to accept when you feel like you have been heard, even if nothing comes of it.  That said, listening is important, but it’s best not to entertain complainers.
  6. 80/20 Rule: The majority of staff are in a good place with planned or recent changes, but a small faction of naysayers draw a great deal of attention and consume significant amounts of others time.  This 20% must be dealt with and encouraged to limit their negativity. Managers must be careful to not let them dominate conversations or turn the issues of one into the issues of many.

A common obstacle is early stage enthusiasm that evolves, as change looms nearer, into resistance. 

The organization collectively recognized the need and seemed excited about the idea of change, but now, nobody wants to actually change, or do things any differently.” 

This common refrain is one that you should anticipate and effectively negotiate with the help of these six steps.