Change management: the problem with change management is people

Change. It’s something that all organisations undergo. In fact, change is no longer a one-time event. It’s a constant cycle, with organisations continually adapting in response to ever-changing market conditions. As such managing change effectively is a core competency all businesses must master. Yet, research by Towers Watson suggests that only 25% of change management programmes actually deliver the long term business goals they set out to.

The problem with change management

Despite being inevitable, it seems that the ability to implement successful and lasting change continues to elude many businesses. Part of the fundamental challenge is that too often, organisations approach change from the end point. Having identified the outcomes (and the metrics by which they will measure success), they then work backwards in a linear fashion, mapping out the changes to systems, processes and people that need to occur; creating detailed implementation plans and measures for each aspect.

Implementing these changes, however, is where many companies struggle. Plans are often met with resistance, engagement and productivity dip, and what looked like realistic timeframes in the planning meetings suddenly start to slip.

And why? Fundamentally it’s because they’ve overlooked one critical aspect. Engaging their people.

If we step back and think about it, it makes perfect sense. If you are a brand and you want to engage your customers, you invest time doing so. Internal change programmes are no different. Your employees are your internal customers, and just like your external customers, you need to engage them. And engage them on a personal level.

Changing mind-set

Getting people on board with proposed changes requires a mind-set change: shifting focus from what was, to what will be. Understanding how ready your people are for change can help but ultimately mind-set change takes time and is a journey.

People by their very nature are different, and respond in different time frames to change. Organisations that understand this focus on communicating with their people at a personal one-to-one level.

Yes, of course there is a balance to be made between time and urgency, but investing time in helping people understand what the changes will mean for them personally will pay dividends in terms of engagement, and overall support for the changes.

The luxury of time

Change doesn’t just happen, it’s planned. For months in some instances. For those involved in shaping the change programme (leaders) it is very easy to become hardened to the changes. After all, it is likely that it has been a key priority for them for months.

For employees however, any announcement is new news, and will most likely come as a shock. No doubt leaders involved in the early discussions exhibited very similar initial responses. However, with the luxury of time they have accepted the changes, and are fully behind them.

Ensuring your change programme provides sufficient time for people to come to terms with the proposed changes will again, in the long run, ensure the overall change programme runs more smoothly. Taking that little bit of extra time will also ensure people’s overall engagement and motivations to deliver on day-to-day business as usual activities are maintained.

Communicating a vision

Companies that have mastered managing change understand the importance of storytelling. They invest time creating the new vision and equally commit time and resources to how they will communicate this vision to their audience.

They carefully craft their message so that people understand the reason for the changes, but are able to paint a picture of the future. They make reference on how they will measure progress, but don’t disengage or alienate people by focusing solely on hard metrics.

Increasingly organisations are involving their marketing departments in major change programmes to take advantage of their expertise in creating engaging communications. But importantly they ensure the person responsible for delivering the messages is emotionally aware and sensitive to their audiences’ feelings.

Upskilling people managers

People managers are the catalyst for change. Getting them on-board early and ensuring that they have the skills to support and help their teams navigate change will increase success. Too often we assume that our managers have the required skills to support their teams, when in fact this is often new territory for them too.

It’s a journey

Organisations which recognise that change is a journey have identified the end point, but appreciate that the course they take to get there may need to evolve. In short they listen, take regular pulse checks and adapt their approach accordingly.

Taking a short-sighted view and pushing on when all indicators suggest the need to pause and adapt slightly will do more damage in the long run. It’s no good getting to the end point having lost key talent, or overall engagement levels being so low that you have to spend the next 12 months rebuilding. Better to listen and be open to change yourself and retain morale and talent, than emerge battered and bruised at the end.

Change is something that all organisations have to master they are to thrive both now and in the future. Organisations that have mastered effective change put their people at the centre of their change programmes, and have appropriate measures in place that allow them to quickly adapt their approach as change unfolds. Clearly there are other aspects to consider, such as ensuring any change is embedded. However, increasing focus on the people aspects of change will help organisations avoid being one of the 75% that fail to realise any benefit from their change programme.