Spreading wings? What does it take to embrace change?

Written by
Changeboard Team

14 Jun 2010

14 Jun 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Managing change: a careful process

In recent years, it has been recognised that change should not simply happen within a business, but something that needs to be carefully managed and structured. Increasingly businesses are either establishing change management teams or engaging with consultancies to help them realise the full Benefits of any change programme. 

Often, the widely-reported Benefits of change do not appear as readily as expected and take much more time to be realised. Acquisitions, new systems, reorganisation and new strategic direction are all demanding for any business to implement and to then make work. All too often changes can disrupt the ongoing improvement and operation of the business.

Change management: a whole company experience

Employees want to work for progressive companies, particularly ones that continue to develop and innovate. However, employers need to make sure their employees understand the change process and roadmap and that they feel part of any such process and not victims of it.

Therefore, managing change makes great sense in balancing day-to-day operational efficiencies with the need to develop and enhance the business.

The key is to account for peoples natural concerns for their own security and their scepticism around the personal Benefits of change or concerns that they will like the new world.

What role does HR have in affecting change?

The HR function can play a key role in making sure change lands effectively. Often it's only the HR teams that can take a holistic business-wide view of the impacts and implications of change. In being ready to support the change process, helping the people responsible for implementing change and ensuring engagement across the business, the HR function can deliver business benefit and stability across the workforce.

Employers need to understand what the impacts are of the change process - who will be affected, how and to what degree. The HR team are ideally placed to ensure that the project team does not just focus on the immediately obvious impact on functions or teams. They need to look horizontally and vertically to gauge the extent of any impact.

Who & what are affected by business change?

For example, in many retail businesses we have helped companies recognise that the new system does not just affect the jobs of the people who use it. It also affects:

  • Managers they need to know how to manage team members in a new way, with new key performance indicators, for example, and to have new expectations of their productivity
  • People up and down stream in the flow of their work not just because they may need to work differently to fit into the new world but also during the transition process when colleagues may be under pressure
  • Suppliers and other external parties there may be new expectations in place around how they need to work, the pace they need to work at or the adoption of new systems and processes
  • And finally, everyone else in the wider business. If people hear about change without it being set in context they invariably see it in a negative light: 'People are going to lose their jobs', 'The company is in trouble', 'Theyve not told us because its all gone wrong' or 'Were next!'

First steps for HR in driving change

Our experience has highlighted a few easily recognisable (but often difficult to implement) threads in successful change programmes. I shall now pick out some from projects we have worked on in the past.

Firstly, plan

Change will just happen if you let it, but to be effective and to minimise the disruption organisations should have a plan for every stage and every person. Identify those potentially impacted, the degree of change and when it will affect each team. Also, look across the business and see who else may be affected. We always suggest that businesses conduct this process by looking at the project from a variety of view points and thinking: How would I feel about this change and what do I need to differently as a result?.

Secondly, communicate

We have all worked with businesses who think it is best to only tell people what they need to know and when they need to know it. This only leads to a loss in control of the message, often allowing rumour to replace communication. Many people can think of far worse Results of any change than you would imagine, so as soon as you decide on a path of change, devise a communications strategy and start communicating.

Plan ahead & communicate through the process

Next, make a contingency plan

Recognise there will be problems and what you plan to do will not happen as you expect. Make sure that people within the team managing the change are ready to adapt to changes themselves issues dont have to be a problem but dealing with them badly can be a problem.

Be honest

Most change is not going to be great for everyone. Neither is it going to herald a new dawn of prosperity and love. You need to be honest about why the change process is necessary, the Benefits to individuals, the business and the process they and you will go through. You also need to tell people about the potential problems and the short-term additional work. If you think that by not telling people about these they wont spot them, you are wrong. Tell them carefully and honestly but early on in the process.

Keep talking (especially to the management across the business)

It is easy for executives to forget what the impact of the change process might be and react negatively along the way. Make sure they know what is going to happen before it does. After all, they will be the ones fielding the questions from their team and they need to appear in control.

Celebrate successful change management steps

Finally, celebrate success. Do this at real milestones in the project and at those you create (to ensure momentum in periods of low visibility). This could be at the first go-live, the first time a process is followed or the first training course delivered. Continue this throughout the process: the 100th course, the 1,000th customer served or the 1,000,000th product sold.

Make sure you communicate with people when the change is complete and the Benefits gained. Thank people for their help as part of this process. If you dont do this people never know how the business has progressed and will still be looking over their shoulder waiting for the next step to affect them.