Making Workplace Change Happen in Six Steps

Many organizations muddle through change. How is your organization progressing at implementing that new accounting system or moving to a new employee performance management process?

Are your managers nodding approval in public but sabotaging the initiative in private? Are your employees shell-shocked and just giving up? Do you have no money left over for post-implementation support?

Whatever change your organization is trying to implement, knowing about and working through the necessary steps will go a long way to making your change initiative a success.

I have distilled these crucial steps into a process model for change. The model is called the CHANGE Approach, with each letter signifying a step in the process. I have summarized below the key features of each step leading to a successful change transition.

Create tension
With this first step, articulate why change needs to happen and why it needs to happen within the planned timeframe. Many change programs start with a big bang, but then peter out ending in a whimper. Other programs struggle to develop the initial momentum. Think about the immediate force that will get your people moving in the right direction. This could be impending legislative changes, new entrants to the market, high levels of customer dissatisfaction, etcetera. Think also about the impacts of not changing, such as loss of market share or fines from regulators. To prepare your company for the impending objections, collect as much data as you can to back your assertions.

Harness support
Next, get on board the key decision makers, resource holders and those with the potential to subvert your change process. Start by identifying the key stakeholder groups; the people with something to lose or gain from your change proposal. Include in your analysis the end receivers of the new products or services, such as suppliers, customers and end users of software. Also include internal decision makers and program implementers, such as information technology staff. Then construct a communication plan that tailors the communication content and style to each stakeholder group’s preferences. Be sure to keep the lines of communication with each group open throughout the entire process.

Articulate goals
This step involves defining your organization’s desired outcomes in specific and measurable terms. Doing this removes any ambiguity about your purpose and draws a clear picture of where you want your organization to be at the end of the program. Avoid wishy washy goals, such as “Improve product quality”. Instead, involve your stakeholders in fleshing out meaningful and verifiable outcomes, such as “Reduce customer complaints by 50% by year end”. Break the goals down into manageable chunks and set a baseline for comparison. Most importantly, set up a measurement regime to help keep track of progress.

Nominate roles
With goals clarified and agreed, now assign responsibility for their attainment to specific individuals in your organization. Make sure you articulate task and outcome responsibilities for people in each of the change role categories. The categories you need to consider are the change drivers (such as program sponsor and steering committee), change implementers (such as project managers), change enablers (such as supervisors) and change recipients (such as operators). Ensure that everyone involved has the needed skills to fulfill their responsibilities and implement training where skill gaps have been identified.

Grow capability
To ensure success, build your organization’s systems and people capabilities needed for thoroughly bedding in the change. Ensuring people capability means everyone having the required skills and knowledge to implement the change and then behaving as per the new way of working. Draw up a formal training plan following a proper needs analysis and ensure that the training is practical and focused on behaviors. Make sure that people are well supported back on the job. On the systems side, ensure that supporting systems are up to the mark. These systems may include information, human resource and financial systems. Plan for the necessary systems procurements, implementations and upgrades as part of the initial change program plan.

Entrench changes
This final step is about institutionalizing the change to make it “the way we do things around here”. To prevent backsliding to the old ways, align your organization’s systems and culture to the new required behaviors. Encouraging the new way of working may mean building in performance feedback and reward systems, celebrating some “quick wins”, creating a new look environment, ensuring managers “walk the talk” and updating recruitment and selection criteria.

The above process steps have been found by experience to accompany successful change initiatives. Leaving out one or more of these critical steps is a sure road to failure. On the other hand, paying attention to all of these steps is no guarantee of success. Much depends on the skill of the change leaders, the innate capacity of the organization for change and the intrinsic merit of the change idea itself. Also, the change steps as I have described them here are not meant to be followed in an exact linear fashion. Change in organizations is messy. So, you will sometimes find yourself backtracking to previous steps before you can move forward again. I wish you well on your change journey as you apply the CHANGE Approach process to your organization’s change initiative.

© Leslie Allan. All rights reserved.

Leslie Allan is Director of Business Performance Pty Ltd, a company providing practical online information and resources in a range of business areas. Find out more about applying the CHANGE Approach and download the free introductory chapter to his practical guide, Managing Change in the Workplace.

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