You can actively prepare for change and embrace the opportunities it provides. Or you can passively resist change as long as possible — like an ostrich with its head in the sand.
But the longer you resist change, the fewer options you will have — and the greater the
cost to your company.
Any business executive will agree that change is constant and inevitable — yet all too
many companies are ill prepared for change. In theory, we accept the idea. In practice, we are threatened by it. Change can be chaotic and stressful, and we like the comfort of the status quo. But change also offers an opportunity — and organizations that handle change
well can leap ahead of their competition.
To be ready for change, you need a culture that welcomes, rather than resists, change. A change-ready organization is nimble; it anticipates shifts in the marketplace. Whatever the event — from a factory shutdown to implementing a new corporate strategy — a
change-ready organization is light on its toes and ready to move.
How would you respond if your CEO told you that your group had to make a critical change in how it does business, and you had one week to figure out a solution? You couldn’t come up with a solution on your own — nor would you want to. You would
need to collaborate with your employees, your boss, and your peers. You would need people in your group to be able to make sound decisions on their own. And to move rapidly, you would need the processes and technologies already in place for sharing information in real time and communicating clearly, often across geographic and time zones.
Collaboration. Decentralized decision making. Information sharing. Clear communication pathways. These are the signs of an organization prepared for change. The test of a change-ready organization — and you, as a manager of change — is in how
you respond when the need for change occurs. Of the many change management strategies you should consider, let’s look at three:
Mobilizing energy and commitment
Creating short-term wins, and
First, mobilizing energy and commitment: Think about a time when change was
necessary in your organization. Your employees no doubt had many questions and, more than likely, concerns. How did you respond? Responding to employee concerns provides you with an opportunity to explain the need for change and to gain buy-in. Change initiatives occur in response to a serious business problem, or set of problems. By carefully identifying the problem at hand, you can create a sense of urgency and motivate your employees.
As your employees gradually understand the urgency of the problem, they will likely begin to focus on what needs to be done. You want to harness and mobilize their energy.
Help your group begin to interpret the business problem in terms of their own work and then to identify potential approaches and solutions. You win on every front by involving your team in the early stages of a change effort. This strategy fosters commitment on their part and a shared vision of what needs to be done.
The second strategy is creating short-term wins. If you and your group are facing a
long period of sustained change, you want to focus your team’s attention on short-term
results and wins. Generating short-term wins helps people feel that their hard work and sacrifices have a purpose and are gradually making a difference.
Say you have a three-year change initiative. That could be a daunting prospect for your group. The end goal is so distant that their sense of urgency could gradually dissipate. By setting interim goals — say, for every six months or for each year — you focus the group
on a succession of short-term wins. Be sure you pick meaningful achievements and assign metrics to these goals. For example: “Within the next 12 months we will reduce fuel costs by 15 percent.” Metrics allow you — and everyone else — to know when you
have achieved a goal.
With your group, monitor ongoing performance against the metrics. You want your group to know the instant they hit a goal. Then stop and take time to celebrate! Be vocal and visible! Recognize their hard work and do something special.
Every short-term win is also an occasion for reflection. What went right? What could have been done better, and why? The more you learn along the way, the better prepared you are to address the next milestone — and create another short-term win.
Once you’ve had a success, it is time to implement the third strategy: institutionalizing
success. Institutionalizing a success means you capture your hard-won knowledge and weave it into improved processes, updated information systems, or new reporting structures that describe how work should be done going forward. For example, through digital connectivity and new supply-chain partners, a group successfully meets a short-term goal of reducing a process time line — from order-taking to delivery — from
seven weeks to less than two. Once the group reaches its goal, it institutionalizes its gains through a performance measurement system that keeps everyone’s focus on the new metrics. Some successes, such as a new set of standards, can be implemented across an organization in many areas of the business — truly institutionalizing success.
Is change stressful? Can it feel threatening? Absolutely. However, if you mobilize your team’s commitment and energy, take the time to generate short-term wins, and
institutionalize your successes, you can transform the perceived threat into an opportunity to excel.