Organizational change is a complicated endeavor. The forces at work that continue the status quo are formidable, but not impossible to overcome. Set yourself up for success by laying the foundation with these eight fundamentals.
1. Know your organization.
Like any uphill battle, it is important to know what you are up against. Understanding what organizational factors make up the status quo helps develop plans for overcoming resistance. However, there is more to know about the organization as it relates to a change initiative than treating it as an enemy that needs to be conquered.
A solid change initiative requires knowing which organizational traits will be kept during the transformation and which should be left behind. These items may be cultural (e.g. openness of communication or corporate values), or operational (e.g. a specific process). While some strengths and weaknesses may be obvious, others may need to be determined through employee surveys.
Another way to know your organization requires a historical view: documenting previous change initiatives and what led to the success – or failure – of each. Learning from past transformation efforts helps you avoid known potholes and build on past successes. Ignoring information that is right in front of you can derail your transformation.
2. Define the future.
Every change initiative needs a clear, well-articulated vision of the desired state, whether it is a specific outcome goal (“We will be #1 provider of widgets in 5 years.”) or an organizational goal (“By 2010 we will have the best team in the industry.”) The description of the future target defines the scope of the transformation and sets the timetable.
Besides being a clear picture of the future, a good vision has the following three traits: It is inspiring (people want to go there), it is compelling (people need to go there) and it is realistic (people can go there). Each individual affected by the change is motivated by different facets of your vision.
3. Obtain leadership commitment.
It goes without saying that leadership buy-in to the change effort is necessary for success. Unfortunately, it takes more than just understanding the transformation and giving it lip service. Complete commitment from the leadership team is imperative and requires that leaders have an understanding of the personal behaviors they will need to modify to make the change happen. Does he need to shore up his integrity? Will she start staying within guidelines? Do they need to start collaborating instead of competing?
During a time when employees are looking for the loopholes and making sure the leadership team is serious about the change initiative, complete solidarity outside the conference room is necessary. Confiding doubts or providing negative commentary to employees who are not on the implementation team is one sure way for leaders to stop the change effort short.
4. Ensure accountability.
Without a method for holding individuals accountable to implementing the change initiative, managers and employees will not be motivated to implement the plan. Accountability means that following the guidelines is reinforced through both positive incentives (rewards, promotions) and negative outcomes (disappointment, loss of status). Even employees who are internally motivated to take part in the change effort or modify their behavior will lose interest if others are not held in check.
The surest way to start with accountability is at the leadership team level. Once the leadership team is practiced in holding each other accountable for the change effort, the same policies and behaviors will be mirrored in the organization.
5. Provide resources.
Like any project, how fast change happens depends on the amount of time spent on it. Likewise, the quality of the change relies on the quality of time devoted to the effort. If the initiative is considered to be in addition to their “day job,” employees will not give it the attention it deserves.
One of the invisible means for communicating leadership commitment to a change initiative is the amount of time they spend talking about it. Also important is the amount of time they expect their employees to devote to the initiative.
While time is the scarcest resource, change initiatives need funding. Set aside a budget for the transformation to ensure it isn’t squeezed out of the operating budget. Show commitment by allocating resources and expectations.
6. Plan communication.
The number of messages employees receive are astronomical and many times conflicting or incorrect. Be deliberate in the messages you send about the change initiative to maximize the impact. Realize that different roles require different messages. Identify your intended target audiences and determine what they need to hear and how often they should hear it. The medium also plays a role in the effectiveness of communication. Consider the difference between a poster, an e-mail, and a personalized printed letter. All types of media have a place in communication with different levels of impact and influence.
7. Involve employees.
While being a change agent can seem like a lonely place, there are many people in the organization who believe in the changes you are leading. Including them in your effort will add eyes and ears and much-needed hearts to your initiative.
There are a number of ways to involve employees. First, enlist their help in understanding the organization through employee surveys. Next, during the change initiative, provide multiple means for employee feedback as part of the communication plan. The technology available today makes interactive communication easy and affordable. The important thing to remember is that once you ask for feedback, you must listen to it and act upon it in order for you to continue receiving it.
8. Use a change methodology.
An organization is a complex system of individuals that have different personalities, styles and motivations. Use a change management or organization development methodology to organize your thoughts, plans and initiatives.
Having a framework will provide a means for categorizing your activities and will focus your attention. Without a methodology, it is easy to become the victim of scope creep. Using a tested framework will also allow for collecting benchmarking information or for seeking out the help of other organizations who have followed the same path.
There are over 50,000 change management books that appear in the search results at Amazon.com. If you’d like a methodology that covers the previous 7 ingredients, start with my change management toolkit, the Influence Change at Work™ Toolkit.
Regardless of the type of change, there are some common ingredients for success. While each organizational system is unique, implementing the eight fundamentals will provide a solid foundation for your transformation effort.
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