By Matt Keen, Engagement Manager At Maxxim Consulting
As we enter a new year, the business world is undoubtedly hoping to leave the recession behind. Since the start of the recession, companies have made cuts where they can, but now there is precious little slack left to cut. In 2012 many companies will likely be beginning to refocus where the majority of their activity is done, and change on some scale seems a certainty.
Change undoubtedly brings fear to the majority of companies, but when managed correctly, it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Indeed, there are seven secrets at the foundation of a successful business change.
Although none of these secrets are complex, it is all too easy for companies to get too caught up in what they are doing and as a result they don’t find time to think about the process of change. Keeping these simple points in mind will ensure that change can be managed smoothly and simply, whether it is a major business change or a small alteration.
Be clear about what you’re doing and why
Although it sounds like common sense, one of the biggest “secrets” to successfully managing change in a company is to develop a well ordered vision for why the change needs to happen in the first place. At Maxxim Consulting, we find it concerning how many companies rely on a vision which is not very well ordered or is poorly communicated to even the most senior people. It always worries us how far companies will get into a change project before agreeing why they are doing the project in the first place. When these fundamental issues are poorly constructed or communicated, it leads to a lack of buy-in further down the organisation. Therefore, it is essential to have a clear sense of what you need to do and why before you start conducting change.
Once it is clear what you are doing and why you are doing it, it is essential to ensure that the top team is aligned and together in their messages. It is not enough to accept the need for change and agree on terms behind closed doors – it is essential that the management team publically stands in front of the company and says what they are doing, why they are doing it and why it is right for the company.
An important aspect of public alignment and visible leadership is that any disagreements among the senior management team should be in private, with the whole team aligning to the decided structure in public. Senior management need to show a united front and show people that they completely support the process.
Your people must be engaged
People of all seniority must be engaged on a true, two way level. Ultimately, a number of changes are likely to affect employees, and so it is only sensible that senior management ask for their views and help in getting the processes right. While it is inevitable that any change process will lead to some alteration of daily processes, keeping employees informed and engaged ensures they will feel valued, appreciated and will be more supportive of the process.
Be open and honest in communications
In the same way that it is important to keep people engaged, it is also essential to keep people fully informed. Senior management often think they are protecting people by not telling them the full situation, but in any organisation, the truth always leaks out, nothing can stay secret. The worst scenario is when the work rumour-mill runs riot, and comes up with far worse than anything you would be planning to do in reality!
So, it is better to be in control of any messages communicated and be seen to be upfront and tell people what is happening and why. For example, if it is necessary for jobs to be reduced, it is important to tell people this so they expect it to be the case – there is nothing to be gained by pretending it isn’t going to happen, except losing people’s trust.
Similarly, it is equally vital not to oversell the future world, which companies have a tendency to do. It is all too tempting to tell people how fantastic the new world will be and to paint a beautiful picture of how the new situation will be perfect. No new process is going to be perfect, and people know and understand that. If you tell them that it will be it will only lead to distrust and disappointment. Tell them this will be difficult, but that it is essential and needs to happen.
Reassure people that you will keep reviewing the process to make sure it is working. Don’t expect the transition to be seamless.
It is also important however, to strike a balance between reality and positivity in your communications. Change managers often think change is bigger than it is and place emphasis on all that is changing rather than what is staying the same. As well as discussing honestly and openly what is changing, make sure you emphasise everything that is staying the same. People need to see they are not losing everything – there are processes they can rely on and hold on to.
Changes need to be backed up
This is one of the biggest steps in creating successful change management. All too often at Maxxim we find companies tell us that they have changed the reporting lines and structure of their company in the past, but everyone is still working in the same way and nothing has really changed. In our experience companies seem to mistake shuffling people around with making a real change. They are not the same thing.
A real change is more than a new organisational chart. Real change must have repercussions on processes, how people work, and who they work with. In order to allow people to make these changes, they must be provided with the necessary resources to achieve this including suitable training, and development. People need to know how to work differently as change is difficult and it is far easier to revert to what people know rather than change to a new system. Therefore, you have to help them through.
Senior managers should therefore help people through the change process and give them the time and support required to make the changes. Ultimately, there is no point spending millions of pounds on new systems or process, if you never explain to people how to use it, or give them the time to learn. Helping people through the change is just as essential as getting the process right in the first place.
It is important to make sure that the changes which are planned are actually implemented. Senior management need to appreciate that change is difficult, and the people responsible for planning and implementing change work must be allowed to stop doing some of their duties in order to focus on the change work. If it all happens on the side of a desk, in-between other daily duties, change will take a long time, and the chances of success are much lower.
The project team needs to be disciplined and stay interlinked, and talk amongst themselves regularly so that everyone knows what is going on in each area. The more complex and interlinked a project becomes, the more one area could impact on another, and end up with roles, operating models and processes interlinked. In this way, regular contact and discussion between the project management team is essential to create one fluid model of change.
Don’t be afraid to adapt. Often, when initial plans are made, as more is discovered about how projects work, the initial options need to change. Therefore, you need to be fluid, and change as more thorough research is conducted and it’s also key that your stakeholders appreciate that the first solution proposed is not necessarily the “right” solution. In order to ensure that the optimal solution is reached the first step is to design “Guiding Principles” which are non-negotiable.
When a project is started it is important to set parameters within which you are working. These are the parameters which you evaluate your solutions against. These could include consistency as the overarching principle, or streamlining may be the main consideration, alternatively, creating opportunities for increased people retention may be the number one priority. Be prepared to change your thinking as the programme moves along, but ultimately it is essential to be flexible to ensure your Guiding Principles are optimised.
Ultimately change management doesn’t have to be a complicated, stressful or frightening process. As 2012 progresses, companies increasingly need to refocus their efforts and look to where the majority of their activity takes place. As this occurs the seven simple to follow points above need to be remembered so that companies can make these changes with the minimum of disruption. The big thing to remember is not to try and pretend the change isn’t happening as this will only lead to problems at a later date. Instead be open and upfront with people and keep them engaged throughout the process to ensure that they are behind the change and will support it throughout the process.
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