Change management is seen as a warm and fuzzy ‘thing’ we do to staff to bring them on board with changes introduced to the business. I have heard varied definitions of what it is, including it being ‘training’ – and so as long as staff have attended a training session, it is assumed that they will embrace, adopt and use the changes introduced. In other arenas, change management is about communication, typically sent via e-mail from the project team, HR or the business leader issued at the start of the change, or during the roll-over/go-live of the change. Change management has also been defined as the activities implemented to manage resistance, usually in a reactive manner with resistant groups. In still other arenas, change management is an e-mail on Monday (from the project team) to attend a training on Tuesday for a go-live on Wednesday. That, if anything, is a recipe for significant resistance and project failure.
Organisations need to re-examine their definition of change management, ensuring they see it as a discipline that helps impacted staff and stakeholders embrace, adopt and use the changes introduced in a business to deliver on a particular business outcome. They need to see it as a discipline that leverages tools and processes to ensure staff impacted by changes are provided the requisite support and equipped to make the transition from the old to the new.
Project teams involved in the architecture or design of the change interact with the upcoming change for a longer duration than impacted groups and therefore erroneously assume that impacted teams and functions will understand and embrace the changes in the same way that they do. What often seems obvious is not so obvious, as I have quickly come to learn and understand.
So how should businesses lead change?
For starters, by ensuring that there is a structured approach in place. This would be an approach that enables the correct identification of impacted staff, functions and other stakeholder groups e.g. customers and suppliers, and an approach that helps the project team correctly determine the degree of impact e.g. to jobs, technology, processes, mind-set and behaviour, and therefore determine what change approach to use.
Part of the structured change approach involves ensuring that impacted staff and stakeholders are made aware of the change, why it is necessary, and what the change involves using appropriate communication channels. The most effective communication channel is face to face, where staff and, where possible, other impacted stakeholders, have an opportunity for dialogue; for asking questions, seeking clarification, sharing concerns and, importantly, providing input. The importance of the process of keeping impacted staff engaged cannot be underscored enough and there are many avenues to achieve this objective.
A structured change approach should involve well-thought-through avenues to build knowledge and skills required by staff impacted before, during and after the change.
Resistance to change is normal and not a reflection that the change has failed. A sound change approach anticipates the type of resistance that will be experienced and has in place measures and tactics that will be deployed to minimise the resistance.
To make the change stick, reinforcement is critical. An intentional change approach looks at means and ways of ensuring staff do not revert to old ways of working, and do not look for work-arounds or alternatives.
Nyawera Kibuka, Change Advisor and Prosci Advanced Instructor for East Africa @ Cedar Africa Group
Nyawera is passionate about seeing organisations manage change effectively and use that capability as a competitive advantage. Change is not ‘warm and fuzzy’ but requires a structured, intentional approach using the right tools and processes for the desired business results to be realised.