It’s an overstated aphorism that ‘the only thing constant is change.’
So much of our daily work is concerned with change. Academic literature can sometimes focus on episodic change - going through large events such as implementing a new system or reacting to a shift in legislation - but we are now increasingly experiencing continuous change every day. There is always something different that has to be done.
For managers and leaders at all levels it pays to be better equipped to deal with both day to day change activities and significant change programmes, and change management is the best way to do this. It shouldn’t be a skill set solely for change leaders; it benefits all managers and leaders at all levels.
Change management takes people through a journey of change, as an organisation moves from its current state into a new future state. It finds ways to keep people engaged and motivated during change, to feel like change is something they have done and not had done to them.
Good change management will help you cross the chasm of change, establishing how to get from one side to the other in the most effective way. There are two broad themes we can pull out at a macro level:
Involving people in change is more than communication.
You must involve and engage people in the change process. People don’t resist change, but they resist a sense of being changed - especially when there is no clear narrative explaining why.
Discuss the need for change, and actively involve people in the work needed. Give them the capability and confidence to lead change in their own area. Work together to define new processes and map out how this will impact them, their team, and their customers. We refer to this as doing change with people, not ‘to’ them.
It may seem simple but in practice it can lead to extremely large and complex programmes. For example, in a recent project with a global business we built a bespoke training course to give their operations leaders the competence and confidence to deliver better client outcomes and drive their own improvements – rather than rely solely on external improvement experts. It engaged people through accredited training with a clear focus on improving capabilities and delivering real benefits to each individual’s working day. It’s now been delivered to over 1,000 leaders across 20 countries, with each programme graduate leading teams to drive further improvements across the company.
Tailor your response
The generalised change models that most people are familiar with will assume a series of stages stepping through a change curve.
Whilst this provides a structured methodology, it doesn’t always dig deep enough to explain why some people react to change in very different ways. You can’t manage an individual’s journey through change in the same way you would timetable a change programme; it’s organic and different for everyone.
Through exploring psychological contracts and new models on emotional reactions we can understand why people respond differently – and how we can tailor our approach to individuals with different requirements. This could include providing them with different actions, projects and means of communication.
Whilst you may consider the change programme to be a great success, remember that your team’s emotional journey can continue even after change has been delivered, and they need to be supported in understanding and managing it.
If we accept that everyone goes through a change curve, we also have to recognise that people will experience this journey in different ways. With careful consideration and management there are ways you can short-circuit some of these changes to transition as smoothly as possible.
Enlightened leaders recognise that people will react differently to change. By identifying early on who might respond in different ways, and setting in place mechanisms to support and engage them, you can deliver a successful and long-lasting change intervention.