No industry is exempt from our constantly evolving business world. Restructures and turnarounds are common scenarios. Companies that resist change and fail to innovate will wither and die. It’s as simple and cut-throat as that. But extensive research by John Kotter in the field of change management reveals that only 30 percent of change programs succeed.
There are many examples of businesses that failed to adapt to change: Blockbuster lost out to Netflix, Kodak failed to embrace the digital era, Sony lost out to Samsung and Apple. There are many more stories of complacency and they won’t be the last.
The moral of the change management story? Organizations that are the most adaptable to change are the businesses that are most likely to succeed. Managing change has become critical for business success. The global economy and the digital age demand it. But how easy is it to manage change in business?
The biggest hurdle to businesses when managing their organization through a period of change is employee transition. It requires a culture conducive to change and that isn’t a simple fix. Many organizations fail to understand why employees resist change and this is central to successful adaptation.
Understanding employee behavior and why people in the workplace resist change is a vital component of getting change management right.
In this article, let’s explore how poor change management can quickly become disaster management.
What is change management?
The Association for Project Management (APM) defines change management as “a structured approach to moving an organization from the current state to the desired future state.”
Change management company, Prosci, define change management as “the process, tools and techniques to manage the people side of change to achieve the required business outcome.”
In simplistic terms, change management is a type of project management relating to how the ‘change project’ affects the people in the organization. Prosci determines the goal of change management as being “to help each individual impacted by the change to make a successful transition.”
There are several theories on how organizations should manage change, all of which revolve around the fundamental principle that change impacts everything in the organization, but most of all its people.
Successful change management thus relies on understanding how to move people through change.
Organizations do not change, people do
Fundamental to successful change management is an understanding that businesses per se do not change—it is the transition of the people and the processes within a business that enable it to transform from one thing to another.
Individual transition (employee engagement) is key
Successful change management is impossible with disengaged employees and will almost certainly end in disaster management.
According to Gallup research on the State of the Global Workplace, organizations that have been slow to adapt (to globalization, to rapid changes in technology, the rise of the gig economy and younger workers’ unique expectations) have a much lower percentage of engaged employees. These are the businesses that struggle to implement change.
Employee engagement is a key strategy for change management. Engaged employees are fond of the company, want to go the extra mile and are much more likely to embrace changes implemented in the organization. With involvement, dedication, ownership and accountability managing change becomes relatively easier.
Nothing happens without a consistent, open internal communications strategy
Leaders need to be persuasive when they are selling change to employees. It is a natural human trait to resist the unknown. It is not uncommon for leaders to make assumptions, in particular assuming that employees understand the reasoning behind the changes they are implementing.
One of the most common mistakes business leaders and managers make when they are implementing change in their organization is neglecting to define why change is necessary.
People need to understand why change is happening, how it impacts them and how they will benefit from it. They need to know the bigger picture, as well as how the impending changes will impact them at ground level.
Communication around this needs to be consistent, clear and regular. Successful change management can’t happen without a robust and open communications strategy.
Underestimating resistance is a mistake
Resistance to change in organizations is a common theme. Employee reluctance can hold businesses back—that’s a fact. Understanding why employees might resist change is a big part of ensuring change can happen effectively.
Firstly, change can be stressful. Secondly, change can be painful—some employees may lose their jobs or have to change roles. Thirdly, and on a more optimistic note, change can be liberating—some employees will enjoy new challenges and/or promotions.
Even when the communication about change in an organization is good, there will still be some resistance from some employees and this is perfectly natural.
People need time to get used to new ideas, new processes and understand why things need to change. Change can be stressful and unpleasant and employees will need to feel reassured if they are to accept the changes ahead. Resistance to change is normal and requires compassion. Businesses will become frustrated, lack agility and responsiveness if they ignore this.
Businesses need to evolve quicker than ever before
We live in uncertain times. Businesses need to evolve quicker than ever before in order to meet consumer demand, keep up with technological advancement and stay ahead of the competition. Change in business is inevitable and it’s now happening at an unprecedented pace.
Expecting people to change because you say so does not work. When people feel pressured, or threatened, they will resist. Successfully managing change starts with communication. Most importantly, understanding the reasons why people resist change is essential if business leaders wish to allay fears.
Only by engaging with employees can leaders minimize the adverse impact of change. When employees understand why change is necessary, they are much more likely to align with a new vision. Change management doesn’t have to be an exercise in disaster management.