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Change management is important. We are living in a vibrant ever-changing world where what we call new today will be tomorrow’s yesterday’s news. Change will come more and more often, so it is important to have the leaders who how to deal with change.
Change has been a part of everyday life for centuries. However, in the 20th and 21st century, with a global 24-hours economy, change seems to be a faster reoccurring process than ever before without any sign of this process reversing. Knowing that, you know that change will come to your organisation as well, sooner or later. You should therefore be prepared to have the right leadership-skills in your company to drive home certain changes. Why leadership? Because the success of change does not depend on which software tool you acquired, which consultants have advised you, or which market research drove you to change. The success of change is dependent on whether or not you can get your employees to accept and work with change.
The necessity of a good story
The first step of creating leadership that knows how to deal with change, is that the leadership needs to understand the foundation of the change itself. Leaders and managers need to have a crystal-clear idea of why change is necessary and how it can help the company to achieve its vision, mission and goals. There should be no question or doubt in the mind of a leader or manager about upcoming change, or this might affect the effectiveness of the implementation. A newly implemented project or change often fails because a lack of managerial commitment through understanding the change and translating this to employees.
Once a leader or manager thoroughly understands a change in the company and how it can improve the company, the leader or manager needs to connect this to the goals of the company. Change or improvement itself is not that inspiring. Your vision, mission and goals are tools to create inspiration. So, to convey an inspiring message about change which shows commitment and has the capability to persuade people into adhering to change. The manager or leader needs to show how this change or improvement will lead to the accomplishment of the goals of the company.
Now that the manager or leader understands why the change is necessary and can formulate the argument for change, connected to the goals of the company, it is time to communicate this to your employees. The communication of change is often not done by a simple power point presentation in a singular meeting. You will need to address the upcoming change on a couple occasions, not only because some changes are quite big and therefore complicated to explain, but also to let change ‘sink in’. Give your employees the opportunity to overthink change, to understand what it will mean for them, and to provide an opportunity for their feedback to perhaps even add value to your idea for change. So, plan in a couple of meetings, coffee breaks, group discussions or presentations to bring across your points, because remember: it does not only take effort to convince people, it also takes time to get them on board.
Communication in this sense is a two-way street. You should be in close contact with your employees throughout every stage of change. This brings us to our second, and perhaps most important, aspect of change: your people.
Change is not natural for most people. Most people work out of routine and experience. It is not so much that they are stuck in their old ways, but it is more that they know what works for them right now. Therefore, change can be scary and spark certain concerns. It is important to address these concerns because they can be a root cause for unhappiness, demotivation and stress, even if, in hindsight, there was nothing to be concerned about in the first place. Concern itself is, although very important, relatively unharmful for your employees’ wellbeing. A side-effect of concern, however, is stress. Stress is very harmful for the wellbeing of your employees. Not only for their individual mental wellbeing, but also for the atmosphere on the work floor. Stressed employees have a tendency to emphasize the negative and ignore the positive, which deteriorates the work atmosphere in the long run. This should give you more than enough reasons to address concerns fast and continuously.
So, from the moment you announce change, also simultaneously provide opportunities for your employees to express their concerns. Not only because you want to be a good boss and listen to your employees, but if you can even take away their concerns and show them the advantages, then you can transform those previously concerned employees to be your champions of change. Don’t see concerns as a problem. They are a sign that people care. Concerns are even an opportunity to transform concerned employees into change champions.
Another component that you might encounter when working with your employees towards change is resistance. Resistance is the natural result of experience. People know how they have to work from the past and are cautious to give up their usual ways with which they have familiarized themselves. This is unavoidable and there is generally not much more to it than to engage with resistance. Debates during meetings are a good way to engage with resistance and just like concern, you need to either take resistance away or you can use it to create something better. Resistance in this sense is a useful tool to optimize change. The people on the work floor have the best idea of what they encounter in their daily work, so if there is something which will not work according to their views, then you need to address that. Use the experience of your employees in such a way to optimize your change. Do not just let them be idle bystanders, but show them that their input is valued and that it can improve the process of change. So instead of seeing resistance as a nuisance, accept and embrace it. It is a sign that people care and an opening to let experience shape and finetune the planned change. After all, your employees are the experts on your daily business, so use their experience to criticize and finetune your ideas for change. Their insights will drive improvements, but most importantly also the acceptance and engagement towards the upcoming change.
Accountability and adjustments
Do we get everybody on board? Good. Have all the concerns been addressed? Good. Has the resistance been met and has everybody had a chance to ventilate their criticism? Good. So, then we are done here, right? Wrong.
During the process of change there can still be topics where your employees do not agree with the decisions being made. That is a natural part of the process. In this sense it is important to remain critical as a leader, also towards the decisions being made. If something is not working out, then this has to be addressed and the people involved have to be held accountable. This is not only important to ensure that there are no rushed decisions being taken, but also to uphold the legitimacy of your managerial team. Think about it his way, if managers consistently take wrong decisions and are not being hold accountable then this will not only upset your employees, but it will also undermine the general legitimacy and credibility of your entire management staff. Mistakes can be made, decisions can turn out to be wrong, that is a normal part of change. However, in this sense it should also be normal to hold the responsible people accountable. From that point onwards it is important not to let pride and stubbornness take over from reason and responsibility. If a decision for change turns out to be a mistake, it is time for an adjustment of the original change. This in and of itself is a new point of change in the organisation so it is again important to consider all the points made above when it comes to leadership.
Change is a constant process. New decisions are made daily so it is important to have leaders who know how to deal with change. This starts with understanding change and knowing how to communicate it to your employees. They will subsequently respond with concerns and resistance. These are, however, not a bad thing. They are a sign that people care and they provide opportunities for improving and finetuning change. If it turns out that some decisions in change are not working, then you need to hold the right people accountable and take adjustive action. At this point, you are preparing new change, so it is important to again go over all the important points related to leadership and change management.