Numerous studies have shown that humans are hardwired to resist change, making organizational change an uncomfortable process. Whether the change is a new organization-wide policy, a new software integration, or a merger with another company, employees will be required to spend time and effort shedding old habits and learning new processes before making progress. Failure to overcome this organizational inertia has claimed many a well-intentioned initiative.
In our experience, the biggest cause of a failed change management initiative is a lack of communication and employee involvement at every level of the organization. Without involvement, there is no ownership. And if the only voices promoting a change initiative are senior executives, the process is bound to fail.
Put another way, successful change management requires employees at every organizational level to know and understand their role.
Let’s take a look at how this effort can be accomplished.
Change Management/Project Team – The change management/project team are the leaders of the effort, and it is their job to create the foundation for a successful organizational change. These employees design the change and create a strategy for implementation. They also create one of the most important change management implementation tools: communication plans, roadmaps and resources for other employees. It’s critical for your organization to detail how all employees will be involved throughout the change process as early as possible. Doing so will eliminate any role confusion, give employees the security of knowing what’s coming, and surface concerns or issues early enough that they can be corrected.
Senior Leaders/Executives’ Role in Successful Change Management – Senior leaders’ and executives’ first role in change management is to identify the need for change and communicate that reason to all employees. It can be easy to forget that many employees may feel that a current strategy or process is working well, and will be confused unless they are shown why a change must occur.
Once the need has been communicated, leaders should next outline the future vision to give employees a sense of their destination. This vision could include the benefits of the change and planned milestones identified by the change management/project team.
During the change management effort, senior leadership’s vocal and visible support for the change will be critical to sustaining progress and momentum. Employees are more likely to advocate for the change when senior leaders are actively involved in the process. As well, senior leadership’s attention conveys the fact that a change initiative is being taken seriously and that any difficulties that arise must be overcome.
Middle-Level Managers’ and Supervisors’ Role in Successful Change Management – During a change initiative, middle-level managers and supervisors take on the responsibility of communicating about all aspects of the project with employees both above and below them. Supervisors should serve as a coach and guide to direct reports who are learning new methods or processes, while gathering their employees’ feedback (positive or negative) to pass along to executives and the change management team.
Managers play a critical role in inviting employees to voice their thoughts and concerns and then securing resolution for any issues that arise. Doing so gives line employees a voice and makes them feel that they are a valued part of the change initiative.
To do so, consider creating a comment box, a regularly distributed survey, or regular touch point meetings. Questions such as “Is this change a good idea?”, “What areas do you think will be challenging to adjust?”, and “What are you currently working on that will be impacted by this change?”, will help surface issues or resistance that could potentially derail the initiative. Improvement suggestions from line-level employees are often some of the most valuable pieces of feedback change management teams receive, as the information comes from those closest to the changing processes. Be prepared to put this feedback into action so that employees know their contributions are critical to the success of the organization.
Front-Line Employees’ Role in Successful Change Management – Employees who work with your customers or execute your processes every day will often be most affected by a change management initiative, and so it is critical to give them opportunities to provide feedback and shape initiatives. Small changes such as how customer support requests are processed or what the next step for a change management initiative should be will go a long way toward securing your front-line employees’ buy-in.
One of the primary reasons why organizational change fails is because leadership does not take the time to communicate to employees and enroll employees at every level in the change process. Taking these additional steps to involve all employees throughout the change will increase your odds of a successful initiative.
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