Like death and taxes, there is always one thing you can count on and that's change!

Organizations that take a proactive approach to change, anticipating shifts and adapting before they have occurred, are more successful at maintaining a competitive edge.

Change can take many forms, and to cope, organizations use various mechanisms, such as implementing new policies and procedures, and investing in new technologies. Changing the pattern of how activities get done within the organization is usually the most difficult. That is where the change management approach comes in.

A Structured Approach to Change

There are many ways for an organization to adapt to change. One that is seeing a lot of success is the structured approach — that is, managing change like a project, with a strategy, plan, timeline and budget (if necessary). The return on investment should be explicitly stated and any cultural issues that might affect progress clearly identified. In other words, successful change hinges on the development of a change management plan, and sufficient human and financial resources in place to support and implement that plan.

The change management approach should begin with a detailed analysis of the current state in order to identify gaps between the need for change and the organization’s ability to conform. This requires in-depth understanding of the change impetus, rationale and process, which should be included as part of the change management strategy and plan.

Metrics and Predictive Analytics

It is becoming more common to use performance metrics and more recently “big data” or “predictive analytics” to assist in determining the level of need for change and by how much. With the introduction of more complex and powerful computing technologies, predictive analytics are being used in various ways for things like forecasting the weather, and preventing disease or environmental disaster.

Using metrics or predictive analytics to quantify the outcomes of the change in terms of financial results and operational efficiencies helps clarify the benefits of the change. Similarly, using demographic and psychographic data to identify the effectiveness of various change communication strategies helps position the change in the way that best drives leadership commitment and employee buy-in. Ultimately, quantifiable metrics help to design an appropriate change management strategy and reduce the risk of failure.

Effective Communication

A critical element for successful change is effective communication to get the buy-in of employees at all levels. Involving employees who are closest to the operations affected by the change is important. Using creative marketing can also drive awareness and adoption, align various stakeholders and integrate the change throughout the organization. Ensure these efforts can be tracked as much as possible to demonstrate results.

These approaches must be coupled with training or skills upgrading as appropriate to ensure employees can transition successfully. If some employees still resist, it is not uncommon for organizations to provide personal counseling to alleviate change-related fear. Organizations may also implement ongoing monitoring and evaluation during and after the transition so the plan can be modified if required.

Change Management Process

Another important contributor to ongoing success is developing an overall change maintenance strategy that will help the business sustain change and respond to future change. For example, an organization may implement a formal “change request” process overseen by a change committee, where changes are formally discussed and approved. This step can be critical to the organization’s ability to maintain the change in question and respond to future changes.

In summary, the change management approach can be broken down into a five-step process:

  1. Recognize and substantiate the need for change within the broader business context.
  2. Respond and adapt to the change, keeping in mind both company and stakeholder goals and needs, and making the necessary adjustments (utilizing a change management plan).
  3. Communicate to employees and monitor the adoption rate.
  4. Train employees appropriately, providing support both during and after the change.
  5. Sustain the change through a formal change maintenance process.

In Summary

Change is most likely to be successful if these five steps are considered and included in some form in the organization’s change management approach. By establishing a plan and process, the organization will remain viable well into the future.

This post was originally featured in the July/August 2015 issue of Dialogue Magazine.

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