The Era of Change is upon us. Geopolitical Change. Technological Change. Organizational Change. How companies manage these changes will determine who wins and who loses in the future world. That’s why Change Management is an essential part of the Strategy toolkit, a perfect pairing with planning/modelling work and any necessary implementation(s).
While the Era of Change is upon us, that doesn’t mean that the strategy of implementing change is going to get any easier at an organizational level. Au contraire, it actually seems to be getting harder because of generational gaps (the rise of tech-savvy Gen Z), less time spent together in a physical space (remote work), and the challenges of maintaining social cohesion among colleagues in an increasingly polarized world (information overload).
That’s where the concept behind Change Management comes into play.
What is Change Management?
A central tenet of Change Management is that ‘change’ never happens in a vacuum, its effects ripple through the whole organization.
This means that no matter what ‘change’ is planned and how the benefits are envisioned for the organization, feelings of uncertainty and anxiety will emerge. If not managed effectively, these feelings can lead to resentment and outright resistance to whatever set of change(s) is planned.
Change Management is a series of techniques and strategies to manage the ripple effects within an organization:
- The Why – Why is the change necessary?
- The Plan – What is the plan for change?
- The How – How will the change be implemented?
- The Comms – How will the plan be communicated?
Within this context, organizations need to have a process to steer through employees/stakeholders through the rocky waters of change.
It starts with a vision.
No change would truly be worth undertaking unless there was a level of audacity and boldness behind it. The focus should be on transformational objectives, not incremental changes.
We recommend trying to envision the change based on what your organization truly wants to achieve, rather than relying on benchmarks of peers or industry rankings. As part of Phase I, the Vision helps the organization to define the why of the change taking place and create a strong, easy-to-communicate definition of success.
Blueprint a model or plan.
When you read through the plethora of articles, academic research, and literature about Change Management, there is always a reference towards developing a ‘plan.’ But similar to what we have seen in other areas of business planning over the last decade, sometimes a one-page model trumps a 10-page plan.
That’s why we recommend blueprinting either a plan or a model depending on the context, budget, and circumstances. As part of Phase II, this helps to Manage the implementation phase and ensure that progress is being made.
Make it stick.
Getting through Phase I and II is difficult enough (usually a multi-month or multi-year process) that the biggest travesty would be to get all the way there and not make it a sustainable change.
That’s why we recommend creating a small subset of performance metrics that can help measure and track success. As part of Phase III, the process of enabling continuity and being able to Sustain a big change is driven by the ability to measure/track change and share that information openly across the organization.
The Intangibles – Emotional Intelligence & Trust
In a world of data and metrics, we tend to lose sight of what drives change from the people perspective. Anxiety, fear, and stress lead to increased resistance to change at an individual level. One individual feeling these emotions about a big organizational change may not be enough – in an of itself – to derail an entire Change Management strategy, but if a small group in a larger subset feels disenfranchised then big challenges can emerge.
Leaders with a high level of Emotional Intelligence are able to detect these patterns among employees and contractors in the early stage and counteract them through empathy, persuasion, and social strategies (social rewards, recognition, etc.).
The Components of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence is used to build trust in an organization, and if there is a large degree of trust then employees/teams will likely be more accepting of any proposed changes. But even if the leaders have off-the-charts Emotional Intellgience, it is not enough to drive an effective Change Management strategy.
A coalition is not something that is easy to set up, as by definition it requires a level of cross-functionality independent of hierarchy. That means you can’t simply gather all the Department Heads and create a coalition to drive through a Change Management strategy.
The coalition needs to emerge spontaneously based on the context-specific problems/opportunities around a specific change. The key to achieving this tends to centre around understanding the motivations of those participating and creating a set of rewards to fuel them to become part of the change.
Tools and support can come in many different packages, and can include financial incentives/promotions. But these are not always the biggest motivators for individuals, especially in tight-knit organizations. Too much emphasis on the financial elements of any strategy can, in fact, create a countervailing effect.
That’s why we need to centre a Change Management strategy around some kind of vision. A compelling vision, articulated by a strong leadership team with an eye towards forming a high-trust coalition, are the key ingredients towards a successful Change Management strategy.