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Change Management: Navigating the Turbulent Waters of Organizational Change



Change in life is inevitable, and this extends to every transformational project undertaken by a corporation. Whether it’s a system implementation, digital transformation, merger/acquisition, or post-COVID return-to-the-office push, change is ever-present and undeniably challenging. In making his case for a seismic shift, a character on the award-winning series Ted Lasso noted:


“In the beginning some people will hate this because some people hate change. But remember – at one time we only rode horses and hated the idea of automobiles. Now we can’t live without our cars, and the hot dogs you just ate are 85% horse meat. Change is inevitable.”


While I can’t speak to the nutritional content of hot dogs, I do take issue with the notion that some people hate change. I’d argue that most people in fact hate change. Routines are comfortable, and changes to a routine are often an uncomfortable disruption. So how do we effectively manage change and ensure the desired outcomes are achieved? Read on for some tips on successfully navigating organizational change.


Focus on the Benefits


The easiest was to engender early buy-in for organizational change is to address the critical question of “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) for those whose way of working will be directly impacted. Oftentimes corporations offer loose rationale for change that doesn’t resonate with their employees. Vague statements about a coming change, such that it is based on a strategic corporate initiative, that it will improve the bottom line, or even that it will make everyone’s job easier, will not move the needle for most folks when it comes to their appetite for change. Instead, offer concrete statements about how the new process will benefit the individual employee. The “WIIFM” need not be colossal, but it must illustrate some personal benefit to your workforce. “The increased efficiency from this new process will free up one hour each Friday for you to plan for the coming week,” or “We’ll allocate a portion of the savings expected from this upgrade to replacing the coffee machines in the break room with newer models” will go a long way.


Communicate with Clarity and Empathy


Organizational change inevitably affects the way people within the firm perform their jobs, which can lead to a sense of uncertainty and anxiety. It’s critical that companies have open channels of communication to build trust, reassure employees, and educate them about the coming change.


Keep these pointers in mind to ensure effective communication over the life of the change:

  • Start early.  It’s never too early to start socializing a coming change. The more time employees have to adjust to the idea of the new environment, and to ask questions about the coming change, the better.

  • Be clear and concise.  Employees need to understand why the change is necessary, how the change will impact them personally, and how the change will benefit both themselves individually and the company as a whole.

  • Be honest and transparent.  Employees won’t expect to know every detail of a coming change, but they will assume that they can trust the information that is provided to them. Be forthright with what you share, making sure not to sugar-coat details; if asked about specifics you’re not yet ready to divulge, feel comfortable noting that these details are still being finalized.

  • Reach all employees. Targeted email blasts can be an effective method of providing updates on the change, but what about those employees who work on the manufacturing floor and may not have access to corporate email? Employ a variety of methods – emails, posters, manager-led stand-ups, fireside chats, even branded t-shirts – to share messaging on the change.

  • Be empathetic.  From the CEO to the front-line workers, change is challenging for everyone. Show patience and understand that everyone adjusts to change on their own timeline.

Recognize that One Size Does Not Fit All


It is essential to adapt your change management approach to align with different work environments. For remote or hybrid teams, leveraging virtual tools such as a Digital Learning Platform (DLP) can be effective. While testimonials and webinars can help convey messages to a digitally connected audience, employing low-tech tools like signage, t-shirts, and face-to-face interactions will help drive acceptance of change among those workers with less tech access.


In addition to different work environments, effective change management considers the company’s size, history with change, and unique characteristics. Our recommendations for the same ERP implementation would be significantly different for an emerging tech start-up than for a mid-market manufacturer or a franchise with multiple outposts. The key is having an agile mindset and tailoring the change management approach to each situation.


Culture is Key


One of the most important factors to consider when managing change is company culture. People like to think they can quickly change a corporation’s culture. Spoiler alert – you can’t! The tone and approach you apply to your communications and training will vary from one company to another based on their norms and ways of working. Rather than trying to bend a company’s culture to conform to a formulaic change approach, embrace the working environment and adjust your strategy to increase engagement and ensure a smooth transition.


Regardless of the initiative, be it an ERP implementation or a corporate reorganization, successful change requires a holistic approach that addresses the cultural needs of the organization. In addition to the typical stakeholder and impact assessments that are often conducted at the beginning of a change initiative, it’s a great idea to deploy a culture assessment, which will set a baseline and underpin the entire change strategy.


Celebrate Successes


As the change initiative progresses, be sure to celebrate the little wins. Establish clear goals at the start of your change initiative and identify corresponding milestones. When you reach these key project points, pause and recognize everyone’s efforts. A little thanks goes a long way in keeping groups motivated and maintaining engagement. Order lunch in for the team, treat them to happy hour, or let them sign off a couple hours early on a Friday afternoon to show your appreciation.


None of us can escape change, but we can adapt how we respond to and embrace new norms. Employing the tips discussed herein will increase your chances of successfully ushering in change, deepen team cohesiveness, and lay the groundwork for a future of successful change at your organization.

 

Heather Towt is a Senior Manager and the U.S. Change Management Practice Lead with BearingPoint. A certified change practitioner with a strong background in strategy, finance, and business development, Heather has extensive experience in the health insurance, biopharmaceuticals, and life sciences industries. She also has vast international experience, having visited more than 65 countries and worked on 5 continents.

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