Change management has long been a dark horse in the race for leaders looking to find the winning factors of organizational success. Putting people as a priority in organizations has been a concept that has found its way into the minds of many executives and leaders, but there is still a disconnect between what leaders believe change management to be and how to properly lay the foundation to achieve their intended outcomes for success. I often see the mentality in organizations where leadership believes change needs to happen and that they need to prepare their people for the future, but they do not know where to start, which is understandable as change can be an overwhelming concept in itself, but it ultimately begins with culture.
The way we work is changing and changing quickly. With the largest generational spread in the workforce, rapid advancements in technology, and a younger workforce that is ready to embrace change, it is no secret that organizations need to become more agile and adaptable to compete and stay relevant in the future workforce. These factors are far too prevalent for leaders to ignore, but the increasing pressure to change can create a foundation of ‘changing for the sake of change’ within organizations.
For example, leadership analyzes areas of improvement in the organization and make the decision to implement a new software system to enable employees to work more effectively and efficiently. The leader is sold on a specific brand based on the functionality and cost, but become concerned with employees adopting the software and using all of the functionalities they are paying for. The leader decides to mitigate the risk of low user adoption by including change management into the implementation process. This is all great. Leadership feels like they are moving their people into the future and making progress and expect their employees to feel the same way, but then they receive resistance and push back. This can be discouraging and confusing, the leader had good intentions, cares about the future of the organization, and tried their best to mitigate any risk— why is change so dang hard? Well, I believe that before this process even begins, organizations have already set themselves up for failure by missing the fundamental roots of successful change management. Managing change begins long before a decision for change is even made.
The risk behind ‘change for the sake of change’ is that it can cause organizations to become reactive in decision making and make decisions that do not align with the overall Vision of the organization. It is important for organizations to stay away from a reactive mentality and become proactive in preparing for the future. There are great changes to be made in the future of work, but before making these moves, leaders must first lay the foundation for great change by first changing the culture.
Here are 4 ways to start building a change-ready culture:
Envision the future state of the organization and communicate that Vision openly and honestly.
It is not news that having a shared Vision for an organization is an important factor in organizational success. However, do you believe that you know your organizations Vision for the next 3-5 years? Could you write down your organization’s Vision and describe how you contribute to it? And if you can, do you believe that your teammates would have the same answer? Vision is more than just a plan for growth or product innovation. Vision is what the future state of an organization looks like from a 360 perspective. A Vision should consider what the company looks like from every angle— How are employees working differently? What are our customers saying? How do our executives lead the organization? What characteristics describe the organization? These questions help to build a purpose-driven Vision. And once this Vision is built, leaders need to authentically and consistently communicate this to employees. Communicating Vision to employees makes them feel like they are a part of something greater than themselves and allows employees to even dream about the future. When employees can understand the purpose behind the vision they can start to buy into it and see how their individual role contributes to it. This begins to reduce resistance to change because employees trust that the change is necessary to fulfill that Vision. Employees who truly understand Vision don’t become upset over change, they expect it and embrace it because they understand how this contributes to the overall good of the organization. The organizations success becomes their success, and thus they want to champion change.
FOCUS ON PEOPLE
Listening to your people is one of the best things an organization can do. When you begin to shift to a people centric mindset, you begin to unlock limitless potential. After all, people are the greatest asset.
So often change initiatives fail for several reasons, most of which are rooted in resistance to change. By the time the decision to implement a new technology is made and leaders begin communicating this change, it is already too late. Employees need to feel like they have a voice in the decision making process. It doesn’t matter if this decision is about a new system management software or a new coffee machine, when you force a change on people, they will naturally have a negative reaction. Instead of being reactive and attempting to manage negative reactions, leaders can take a proactive approach by including people in the decision making process from the beginning, mitigating negative emotions by making employees feel like they had a say in the change. Give your employees the ability to choose an option on the table and it empowers them to contribute. I often see leaders unwilling to consider this as a viable option, because they are fearful that employees will want something that is undeliverable and thus break the trust of their employees. However, leaders need to change this mentality and begin to listen to the opinions of their employees and show them that decision making is not a one way street. Allowing employees to have a say in the decision making process increases their autonomy and ability to make decisions that drive the organization forward. This builds trust within the organization, empowers employees, and even drives innovation by priming employees to start considering other ways to improve the organization. No one knows how to innovate better than your own employees.
Many leaders act on fear because they are terrified of anything going wrong. This mentality must change— Failure IS an option!
So often leaders want employees to make quick decisions and become more agile, yet they never give them the opportunity to build their decision making skills and autonomy. My favorite mantra when advising people to take risks is a silly one, but true— ‘You have to risk it for the biscuit’. There are a ton of opportunities for failure in leadership, but with great risk comes great reward and leaders who act without fear reap the rewards of innovation and the support of a strong and willing workforce. There are several great leadership styles, but my favorite is Transformational Leadership. Transformational leaders encourage, inspire and motivate employees to innovate and create change that will help grow and shape the future success of the company. In fact, research has shown that transformational leadership is strongly related to increasing employees’ commitment to change1. Leaders must be willing and able to lead through change. This can start with prioritizing leadership development and encouraging leaders to take risks without fear of failure.
Embed change management into every fiber of the organization and your organization will start to increase its capability to change, and change quickly.
The world is changing and it is changing fast. Millennials account for 35% of the workforce and are not fearful of change2. In order to survive, adaptability is essential. Change management is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘need to have’ in every change project. Change management must run in the veins of organization culture, so the organization is always ready. This is no easy feat. Change is hard but every change initiative does not have to start at zero. By embedding change management into all projects it creates a norm for employees to expect change and also expect for it to be managed well. Employees become less fearful of the change because they understand what the change means for them and how they will be impacted. Remember, no matter the size of the change, every change happens at the individual level. It is essential for every level of employee to understand and adopt a change-ready mentality.
Change can be intimidating, but bringing on a great change management team is the first step to building the foundation for a culture that is ready for change. Our OCM team at Perficient can help you begin increasing organizational agility and ensuring changes are implemented successfully throughout the organization.
- Herold, David & B Fedor, Donald & Caldwell, Steven & Liu, Yi. (2008). The Effects of Transformational and Change Leadership on Employees’ Commitment to a Change: A Multilevel Study. The Journal of applied psychology. 93. 346-57.