Businesses change – it’s the nature of a competitive marketplace. Regardless of the industry in which an organisation operates, at some point it will likely have to undergo some level of change in order to position itself as a market leader.
Change management in business can be a complicated issue. Major adjustments to the way in which a business operates or provides its products and services must be carefully managed. There are several different ways to manage change in the workplace – but here are just a few key tips that the experts would recommend if you’re looking to lead your business through a change process.
Before undertaking any change, a business needs to have a clear and valid reason and mission for the change process. Make sure any undertaking, no matter its size or impact, is realistic, measureable and achievable – there is no use in creating a difficult situation if there is no significant gain to be made for the organisation or its stakeholders.
Start with the end in mind – make plans according to your overall goals, and ensure that all staff are also able to see exactly where an organisation is heading throughout a change process. A solid direction makes employees more likely to accept and embrace changes.
The most important factor in changing anything within a business, small or large, is to communicate the change, and its many factors, to the key stakeholders within the organisation – staff, first and foremost, but also outside stakeholders like shareholders and consumers.
There is no perfect or fool-proof way to communicate change within a business setting. But there are a few rules to remember, such as:
- Keep it simple – avoid using unnecessary jargon and buzz phrases. Make it clear to staff and stakeholders what it is that will change in their day-to-day involvement with the business.
- Be open and prompt – if announcements are delayed, the likelihood of incorrect rumours or leaks rises. Ensure that all staff are able to access information from a reliable and valid source.
- Monitor quantity vs. quality – the old adage “you can’t communicate too much” is often found in business, but it’s important to ensure that whatever is communicated to staff is substantial and of interest to the audience. Insignificant information is just likely to frustrate an organisation’s employees and stakeholders.
- Open communication channels – ensure that all stakeholders have several avenues where they can ask questions, voice concerns or make recommendations. Make the leadership team available and present.
If it’s possible for the change program of your business to be adjusted, then open up your plans for consultation with your stakeholder group. The staff of an organisation are the people who work with a particular product, or encounter customers, or provide services – whatever the case may be for your organisation. Because they have direct experience, they are likely to have valuable information and suggestions to offer to a proposed change.
If the change in an organisation is related to a merger or acquisition, or something equally beyond the control of a manager, then it is best to ensure that staff and stakeholders do not feel excluded from the change process.
One of the biggest challenges with change management processes comes in the form of motivation. How are you meant to motivate staff when there are major changes occurring within an organisation? Unfortunately, some changes are not necessarily beneficial – in tough economic changes, occurrences like mergers and downsizing can create an unmotivated environment in some businesses. Ensure that your organisation finds a way to connect with its staff and provide motivation for staff to continue working and contributing to the business.
Staff are often guilty of reverting to old ways throughout a change process – both effective and ineffective. A change process needs to be organisation wide, so have faith in the changes being implemented and show your trust by limiting opportunities for staff to revert to their old habits. If your organisation is changing a procedure, then ensure that the new procedure is followed closely. If your business is implementing a new computer system, ensure that there is minimal access to the previous system. If your company is changing attitudes across the organisation, create a system that can catch any instances of old attitudes.
Manage the Workload:
Change can bring an increased workload in many organisations, especially if there are changes to technology or company procedure. As a manager in a change situation, be mindful that if you are changing the way in which your staff operate or produce work, they may be less efficient than they previously were – simply because they are most likely learning new habits again. Change can be a lengthy process, so ensure that people are supported – expect delays and deficiencies as employees learn.
As a manager or executive throughout a change management situation, it’s crucial that the organisation, its passage through the change program, and the wider organisation’s reactions to that change program are evaluated at every feasible opportunity. Measure KPIs, ask for feedback from staff and make any required revisions to the original plans - changes should be flexible where necessary to protect the business, its staff, and its brand. Evaluation can occur in many different ways, and at many different stages – choose whichever evaluation tools work effectively for your business and situation.
These are just a few key issues that organisations face throughout change management processes – have you been in a situation involving drastic business changes? How did you approach it – or alternatively, how would you approach it as a leader?
This article was written by Simone Ball on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article: Change Management, Sources of Insight, Inc. and Harvard Business Review.