Change is an essential element for any business today. Change is no longer viewed as merely a way to gain a competitive advantage, but is now essential just to keep up with the competition. But change isn't easy. In fact, many of us seem to have a genetic disposition to despise change. This means that, while we may intuitively agree with change, we are going to, at least initially, resist it. To ensure that change is effectively implemented in an organization, it is important to develop a process to manage change.
Every leader can develop an effective change management process by following five simple steps.
Plan a Strategy
The first step in creating an effective change management process is to plan a strategy. A strategy is a pro-active and intentional effort to make something happen. If a change is going to be effectively implemented, a well designed strategy must first be developed.
I believe that this is true on all levels of change. While large organizations must develop a change strategy because of their size, a small change in a small organization may have one wondering if a formal strategy is necessary. The truth is that something as simple as breaking a habit is often very difficult to accomplish.
Over the years, I have had several opportunities to loose weight. Each time, I accomplished this by either working out or adjusting my diet. Both of these strategies produced effective results, but were very difficult to initially implement. I could usually break my bad habits and implement good habits if I could just get past the first three weeks. As that was always the hardest part for me, I have found that having an intentional strategy for the first three weeks produced the most consistent and best results.
Having a clear strategy to manage change will ensure a smooth change management process.
Communicate the Change
Once a strategy is developed for change, the next step is to communicate the change. Communication is a tool that can have serious consequences, both good and bad, on the overall effectiveness of a change management process.
As both a consultant and an employee, I have had the opportunity to watch several different leaders implement change. Some of these changes were major organizational pivots while others were simple process tweaks. From these experiences, coupled with my own experiences in managing change, I can tell you that the most effective change management processes involve effective communication. In fact, I believe that you really can't have enough communication.
I hate change. I believe that my DNA was designed to resist change. But the one thing I despise more than change is ineffective communication during the change process.
Many years ago, I worked for a sales manager that had a philosophy that constant change was the best way to get his sales people to perform. He would start the week off in our Monday huddle by providing our target product to sell for the week. But by the end of the week, he wouldn't even acknowledge the accomplishments we made toward our goals but would focus his energy on criticizing the areas we did not focus on.
He took this approach in all areas of management. For example, he would tell us that we couldn't have overtime, but when we were at 40 hours at 5:00pm on Saturday, he would act upset that we were not coming in to work on Saturday. He would constantly change things, but would never accompany the change with effective communication - or any communication for that matter. Due to this lack of communication and lack of a clear strategy, this was the most toxic environment that I (and several of my colleagues) have ever worked in.
Ineffective communication also complicates things when change is on a larger scale. For example, I have been involved with mergers, acquisitions, and store closings. These changes are significant and when the change isn't effectively communicated, the employees tend to become very uneasy, which has a direct, negative effect on the culture of the organization.
Effective communication through the change management process is one of the best tools available to ensure a successful change.
The third step in a change management process is to conduct a dry-run of the change. A dry-run can be implemented in one of two ways.
The first way to conduct a dry-run is to conduct a temporary test of the change. This dry-run often involves a temporary period of time where the change is fully implemented and the prior way of doing things is completely replaced. A common example of this is when an IT professional tests a new system. The perform an isolated test that isn't actually "live," but is an accurate simulation of how the change will work in a real situation. This type of test allows many problems to be identified and corrected before fully implemented across the organization.
The second type of dry run is a transition period. This type of dry run provides a temporary period of time where the change is available, but not fully required. An example of this would be where a hospital is transitioning to new nursing uniforms. During the transition period, they allow their staff to wear either the old uniform or the new uniform. Eventually, the transitional period will cease and the old uniform will no longer be involved. Facebook famously used this type of dry-run period in transitioning to their "timeline" format.
Regardless of what method of a dry-run is utilized, the goal of a dry-run it to work out any major problems before the change is fully forced upon an organization.
The next change management process step is to take the change live.
I have seen many change management processes fail because they did not make the change fully "live." For example, I know of a business that switched core processing systems but did not remove access to the prior system. Several years after the initial change, they discovered that several employees were actually utilizing the prior system to run calculations and even create customer documents and disclosures. These employees had never learned the new system because the organization did not fully "go live" with the change. They essentially implemented a dry-run, transitional period.
Going live can cause many challenges, both for employees and for customers. Therefore, communication when you "go live" is a vital component of the change management process.
Test the change
The final step in the change management process is to test the change. Testing provides accountability, and without testing, it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of the change.
There are essentially three different ways you can test a change. First, an organization can implement a control, or quality control function to ensure that the change is implemented This may involve a checklist or system specification that determines whether or not the change was utilized. In a quality control format, the testing actually encompasses the entire universe of transactions and is often done on a real time basis.
The second way to test a change is to conduct an informal review. This can be done by a supervisor or someone knowledgeable in the process and is often done on a periodic basis. Deficiencies can be identified and quickly addressed by management.
The final way to test a change is to conduct an audit. Audits are usually performed by an independent third party, such as a CPA firm or consultant, and is often performed an an infrequent basis, such as annually. Audit findings are often reported to senior management and/or the board of directors and are very formal in nature.
A Question For You
As you can see, implementing a change management process involved five simple steps: strategy, communication, a dry-run, going live, and testing the change. If any of these steps are missing, the change will not be as effective as it could be.
What are some examples that you have seen ineffective change?