By Kevin Knowles, Managing Partner, Cavendish Wood

The saying, “change is the only constant in life,” has never been truer. To remain competitive, businesses are having to work harder than ever to ensure they are agile and fleet of foot so they respond quickly to changes in technology, customer demand, market pressures and competitors. When implementing a change programme, which can range from introducing a innovative new technology to updating a legacy ‘back-office’ process, businesses often make the mistake of focusing too much on the technical aspect of what they are changing and forget the most important detail — people.

Share the vision
To the people at the top of the organisation who plan the change programme, the sound reasoning behind it will be obvious. But for those further down in the organisation who are expected to assist in introducing and embedding the change, potentially alongside external contractors, third parties and service providers, the rationale might not be as clear. All they see is additional work they need to complete while also doing their day job. And if employees don’t understand why a change programme is important they are less likely to give it the attention it needs, prioritising work that they believe has more of an impact on the business. This can lead to projects being delayed and could also lead to increased costs, which no business owner will appreciate.

To guard against this, senior leaders need to clearly communicate why they are choosing to make this change now and the positive effects it will have on business.

Communicate the benefits
One of the easiest ways to get people onside is to communicate the benefits that will accrue to them personally from any changes. For example, if introducing a new IT system, employees may find it slows down their work in the short term as they master a new way of working. But if leaders talk to them about the benefits it will bring in the long term, such as making a process quicker, or increasing profits or job security, employees will have a far more accepting attitude rather than becoming frustrated and disengaged.

By talking benefits, rather than simply saying, “we’re upgrading system XYZ,” the change will become embedded more swiftly and smoothly.

Take a pragmatic approach to problems
Many change projects involve migrating from one system to another, with both running simultaneously for a period of time. It can be challenging to get people off one system and onto another, especially if the older one is still available and they find it easier to use. This can lead to increased costs for the business as, rather than shutting down the old system as the new one gets up and running, they end up having to run both simultaneously for longer than expected. To help address potential problems, look at the programme with an end-to-end view, rather than just at an isolated part of it. This will help identify potential pain points and they can be factored into planning.

Have an open and ongoing dialogue
Throughout any change programme it is valuable to have open channels for people to use to feedback on how things are going and to ask questions. This gives leaders the opportunity to continue to reinforce the business benefits of the change and link them to the business plans. It also provides an opportunity for employees to raise problems before they become major issues that could derail the programme. Departments can sometimes fall prey to tunnel vision when implementing change and not realise that employees may also be dealing with change projects from other parts of the business. By being prepared to listen, as well as providing resources to help employees with unfamiliar tasks, the journey to the end state can be made smoother, rather than having a bumpy ride for all involved.

Change in an organisation can be stressful to many people and if it also increases workloads, it can be challenging to implement successfully. By keeping employees informed about the vision for the business, how they will eventually benefit from the change and by taking a pragmatic approach to troubleshooting, change projects can be faster and a more positive experience for everyone involved.