Change management is a journey, not a race
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management.
By: Anna-Maria Parente
It’s not uncommon for organizations to set an ambitious timeline when they undergo change.
In implementing exponential change, it’s often overlooked that getting a buy-in from stakeholders requires a purposeful action plan that takes time. Not everything can be done quickly, and a hybrid approach to change management is recommended for managing the most unpredictable element: people.
Think about your own habits and how difficult it is to change them overnight. Understanding how to connect change to the people is the most complicated part of change management, but it can be done.
Communicate quickly and often: People are not robots
Whatever your change is, it must be communicated quickly and often. If you implement change slowly, employees will be inclined to hang on to the old ways of doing things, which can unravel the transformation. As you work on the people-change process, you will encounter three levels of staff:
- The adopters, who embrace transition;
- The default group, those who are in the middle and will either adopt or not;
- The resistors.
Adopters are advocates for change. As a group, they have a positive effect on the rest of the staff and are devoted and loyal to the company. Adopters should be utilized to increase momentum for the change as they are usually role models and likely your top performers. Utilize adopters’ support for training, team collaboration meetings and one-on-one learning sessions.
The default group maintains the status quo unless the resistors get to it first, which is what makes the resistors the most concerning. Know who the resistors are and deal with them. Take time to understand where their resistance to change is coming from and determine whether you can help them overcome it. If you can turn a resistor into an adopter, he or she can be one of your biggest advocates for change.
Remember that change can create anxiety in people that they may never explicitly express, but whether you develop a coaching plan to help them overcome these issues, or move them out of the organization, it is important to act swiftly and without delay.
Be respectful and honest with your employees because they are your most important asset and deserve to know how change may impact them. Change naturally creates uncertainty, especially a huge transformation, so involve people in the process at every opportunity and communicate directly with them as often as possible. Ensure they fully understand why change is taking place and what the future looks like. Be supportive in all your communications and plans; your staff deserves to learn about everything that’s going on so each individual can decide independently whether he or she wants to be part of the change.
Identify the different aspects of the change
A company’s most valuable asset is its people but it is equally important to understand the business side of the change and how it will impact stakeholders before you embark on the journey. Any company should consider and understand the impact these factors will have when they get down to the brass tacks of change-management planning:
- Why is this organizational change important and what is the magnitude of the change?
- How is this change going to affect customers, suppliers, employees and other stakeholders?
- How does this change impact your specific industry and market?
At SureWerx, our corporate brand identity changed once we were acquired by a private equity firm. It was paramount, in order to differentiate ourselves in existing markets and enter new ones, that we underwent a re-branding that required a disruptive change to our culture, and the way in which we conducted business as we developed our new vision, mission and brand identity. While the change-management process for people and culture was planned as a three-year journey, the change-management process around creating a new business purpose and corporate brand identity took nine months of planning and three months of execution – encompassing new marketing strategy, website, communication, new processes, systems, and a new identity. Our communication strategy centred on our customers and ultimately, on the professional workers who use our products every day.
Whatever your change is, understand clearly how it will affect each stakeholder and map out the change-management plan accordingly. Remember, change management is not a race but a journey.