Change management is often overlooked as a crucial component of any corporate structure. Most managers and business leaders believe that the time to bring in a change agent is when processes are broken, communications have ground to a halt, and the company is losing business. But effective change management needs time and room to grow, and may need to be initiated before cracks appear on the surface.
When business leaders think of change management, many of them probably think about the huge bills they’ll have to pay a hot-shot consultant or team. Managing change is a business all to itself, with consultants and companies trying to exhibit a new and radically different way of creating and maintaining positive change. Like any business, the companies that succeed in change consultation are the ones that differentiate themselves from others—the ones that appear to disrupt how change management has been done before.
There are two reasons why change consultants work this way. One, in a marketplace full of change managers competing with each other, modern marketing theory dictates that to build one’s brand, it helps to position the brand as the one that’s making improvements to the industry. Branding 101 in today’s marketplace. Two, a consultancy can’t offer a cookie-cutter change management initiative to all their clients anymore. If they want to remain competitive, they have to prove they can think outside the box and tailor their services to assist in rebuilding employee communications and training and development systems for each new client. Change managers who never adapt don’t make it.
What is Effective Change Management?
Truly effective change management should be organic and holistic. That means the winds of change need to be blowing long before you hire a change consultant offering a tailored approach to your issues. As a manager, a leader, you have to be in tune with things that need fine-tuning before you bring in the cavalry. When managing change, you must think ahead of any consultants you want to bring in. Start creating the change you want to see, major or minor, when it becomes clear changes are needed.
First, remember that there are no change heroes. Everyone has a part in the continuous improvement of your organization. Everyone is there to make the changes that will improve the organization. Team work is the key to any business, and when workers feel isolated, like their problems are their own to solve, negative emotions like resentment brew. Your employees won’t be impressed by some heroic figure who swoops in to save the day. You have to impart to everyone that they’re part of the positive change the company needs. One crucial way to be agile enough to respond to fast changes is to create an employee communications feedback system that records and makes available small changes suggested by the employees themselves.
When You Encounter Resistance
I worked at a software development company for six months. I commuted to the office in Boulder from Denver three days a week, and spent two days a week working from home for this company. In those six months, we changed how we did many basic tasks, such as saving files in different online and internal folders, about a dozen times. The CEO wanted to create a perfectly streamlined, efficient, profitable work process for the company, so he kept changing things. Some of the changes I appreciated, some I didn’t. After a while I started to suffer from change fatigue, becoming more resistant to new ways of doing things as more changes were constantly being made.
You won’t be able to completely avoid resistance in your workforce, especially if you need to change a process that has been around for years. One aspect of change management is understanding the true reasons behind each change and communicating that to your workers. Another is simply not trying to change too much too fast. Change fatigue is not uncommon, nor is it a difficult concept to understand. By making the changes that need to be made and not just changing things for the sake of it, you’re avoiding future resistance, and when your employees understand why you’re making changes, they’ll be more likely to support it, even if they don’t completely agree with you.
When you encounter resistance and don’t understand why, even after investments in training and development, it’s time to investigate. It could be your employees are trying to make the changes you’ve required, but something is blocking them. Employees (me included) don’t want to admit they can’t do something. Hard-working employees often try to adapt to changes to make them work, even when those adaptions are not what you had in mind.
Here’s an example: You noticed you’re spending an inordinate amount of money on energy costs for the office. You tell your employees you’re making a change. Everyone is responsible for turning out the lights of their offices and conference rooms, etc. when they leave the room. Seems simple enough, right? Aside from the occasional forgetting, you notice your employees making an effort to conserve energy in the office, yet that energy bill remains high. Instead of calling an “all-hands” meeting to yell at them about turning the lights off, investigate. Consider the possibility that your employees are trying to conserve electricity and there’s something that’s blocking them from creating the results you want. Are the lights in the bathrooms automatically turning off or staying on all night? There are plenty of factors that sometimes get overlooked and block employees from making the changes you want.
Using Change Effectively
Any kind of change at work, be it sweeping organizational changes or a shift in lights-out policies, aren’t easy to implement for anyone. That’s why there’s a whole business consultancy sub-market for change managers. Organizational change is effective when it’s warranted and when its true consequences are understood and adjusted for by management.