Managing Change Means Changing Management
Few leadership duties are more perplexing and difficult to master than change management. Organizations must continually make changes to evolve and stay competitive. In many cases, the change process involves management changing itself from within in order to make external improvements.
Sometimes a change initiative requires a complete overhaul of a company’s business strategy, which can shake the company to its core. In other cases, it involves the creation or dissolution of a business unit, or the challenging integration after a big merger. Or change management can simply mean reorganizing the company’s org chart to flatten out the hierarchy and reduce the layers of middle management.
The possibilities are endless, yet change management initiatives should only be undertaken to enhance organizational performance, not for the sake of change itself. And whatever the cause, change management must become the responsibility of leaders and managers because that is their job, according to Carter McNamara, Principal of Authenticity Consulting, LLC, writing in ManagementHelp.org
. McNamara is a nationally recognized expert in organizational development and change.
Successful change efforts require a team of participants including the solution’s initiator, an enthusiastic champion, the organizer or change agent, an official project sponsor, and other leaders. If an initiative involves companywide changes, the board of directors should also be involved in the process, even if just in an advisory role.
Given the number of people involved in change management processes, collaboration is a critical element for success. In the project’s startup stage, change agents need to clarify the expectations and roles for everyone. This is also the time to assess the team’s readiness, and secure buy-in from the employee base.
“Experts assert that this phase is one of the most – if not the most – important phase in the organizational change process,” writes McNamara. “The quality of how this phase is carried out usually is a strong indicator of how the project will go.”
In this initial phase, McNamara advises change agents to focus on soft skills such as interviewing, listening, nonverbal communications, questioning and building trust. The research stage involves interviews of people from across the organization to understand their views about the problem, and how the solution would affect their daily routines. The goal is to research the nature of the problem, identify the key findings, and make recommendations for workable solutions.
This discovery phase is critical and should not be downplayed by leaders. Otherwise projects may veer off in the wrong direction to seek a cure for the symptoms, rather than for the root causes of the problem. Another common pitfall is laying out an unrealistic vision that sounds inspiring when it is described, but quickly becomes unworkable when it gets rolled out.
The next phase involves collaboration on an action plan, including a systematic approach to develop the project activities, benchmarks and deadlines. Once the project gets underway, this phase should be followed up with evaluations of how the initiative is being perceived and accepted by members of the organization.
Sometimes lengthy projects get stuck, slowing momentum and hurting the team’s morale. Such delays can stem from new organizational and budgetary priorities, staff burnout, or key project leaders leaving the organization. In these cases, managers may attempt to cycle back to an earlier phase as a way of jumpstarting the stalled project.
Finally, the project termination phase is when all the goals have been reached and no further activities are necessary. Managers should clearly set out this finish line, or they may find themselves trapped in a cycle of “project creep” in which the project never ends because the measures for success keep expanding. The termination phase should include activities to collect positive and negative findings from the initiative that will help shape future change projects.
There is no surefire formula to ensure the success of every change management effort, because each project is unique. That’s why leaders need to roll up their sleeves and learn as they go in turning their visions for change into realities.
“Many times, the success of a project lies not with having selected the perfect choice of activities, but rather with how honest and participative people were during the project, how much they learned and how open they were to changing their plans for change,” concludes McNamara.