How to Support Change in Your Organization
Strictly speaking, the headline is not entirely accurate; doing nothing is an option; it’s just not a very good one.
I am sure most of you will have heard a variation of ‘Standing still is really going backwards’, as all your competitors are continually moving forwards.
And this is as true in sports, where you hear it most often, as in business.
But why is change so significant, and what conditions do we need to create for organisational change to be successful?
On the demand side, customers and their habits are continually evolving, from bricks and mortar shopping to online, from relying on product advice and information from sales staff and assistants and the ‘people next door’ to searching on Google and Facebook recommendations.
Therefore, organisations have had to develop new policies to cope.
On the supply side, as manufacturing and production have moved off-shore and become more complex, organisations had to devise new ways to monitor stocks and manage ‘lean manufacture’ techniques.
The rise of customer data platforms has enabled organisations to track, measure and record the number of touch points along the customer journey, from initial contact to post-sales follow-up.
These changes allow organisations to adjust purchasing decisions to market conditions more accurately, improve the user experience for their customer-facing software, and tailor marketing campaigns.
So that’s the Why covered.
Next, what conditions need to be in place for successful change?
You could argue that this depends on what changes you are trying to achieve.
`But there are some core principles that will apply across most instances.
Start by defining what you are trying to achieve and what the drivers are, internal and external.
Identifying motivation is often the key to the development of a successful strategy.
A successful change manager needs to develop and deliver their own PR campaign.
Communication, winning hearts and minds, is essential for successful organisational change – remember, it’s people who change, not organisations,
If possible, include senior leaders as active and visible sponsors of the change.
Their involvement can help prevent resistance from taking root early in the change project lifecycle.
Involvement from the leadership team can also help impacted employees understand and accept the “why” behind the change.
This strategy can also defuse resistance later in the project when it can adversely impact the benefits in various ways.
The most significant cause of failure is poor communication, not preparing the ground internally, and making people aware of the reasons and need for change, especially among the most affected groups.
So, we know why we need to change, we’ve identified what we need to change, and we’ve started to prepare the ground internally, what’s next.
Whether it’s introducing a new production workflow, a unique user experience interface on your website which generates the need for quicker response times and actions or how teams communicate internally, staff will need support and training to implement the new skills and behaviours.
Interventions need to be designed and scheduled ahead of time, their efficacy tested, and staff enrolled. These preparations will not only help to remove uncertainty but will increase the speed of adoption.
Don’t underestimate the power of the status quo!
We are talking about something called homeostasis.
This is natural movement of any creature toward equilibrium and away from change; the inbuilt assumption that, even if the current situation is causing problems, the prospect of change will inevitably cause worry and stress, and if possible, should be avoided.
But research into the neuroscience of leadership by David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz has offered some interesting insights and potential remedies.
Such insights may equip whoever is helming the project, be that customer success manager or an internal manager, with the tools to deliver success.
The research found that:
- Organisational change can be difficult to accept because it provokes sensations of physiological discomfort, so that staff resistance may be more than just a knee-jerk reaction.
- Change initiatives based on the carrot and the stick approach rarely succeed in the long run.
- Expectation shapes reality; people’s preconceptions can significantly impact what they perceive or expect.
- Repeated, purposeful, and focused attention, in the form of tailored interventions, can lead to long-lasting personal evolution.
As an example, think about learning to drive. Those first lessons can be difficult and stressful as you are confronted with new experiences and processes.
As you grow accustomed, things start to ease, and you become more comfortable; before you know it, you are driving without being consciously aware of doing it.
Then change occurs.
You travel to another country; you must drive on the other side of the road – and the anxiety and stress return.
Put simply, trying to change any ‘hard-wired’ habits is difficult.
The key is understanding that individuals can have differing ‘mental maps’ of the same situation, which can directly influence their behaviour.
A negative mental map of a change project will see only difficulty and trouble, while their colleague with a positive mental map will see opportunity.
Large-scale changes in behaviour require a similarly large-scale change in mental maps.
Achieving this requires bespoke interventions, which allow people to motivate themselves, in effect, to change their attitudes and expectations more quickly and dramatically than they usually would.
This can be achieved by cultivating moments of ‘insight’ into how their working lives will be improved (or transformed if you’re feeling expansive) by the change project.
Successful change is about placing people at the centre of the project, as I mentioned earlier – it’s people that change not organisations.
Begin by identifying the cause of the problem (Point A), what needs to change to address the issue, and what needs to be done to arrive at a successful outcome (Point B).
It is about mapping out what need to be done to get from A to B, assigning role and responsibilities with realistic deadlines, carrying out a training needs analysis and designing appropriate and targeted training and support interventions.
Identifying the groups that will be impacted by the changes (directly and indirectly) and devising a communications strategy that reassures them that their concerns have been heard and addressed.
But remember, people can detect the difference between genuine interest and an effort to persuade them.