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Six Keys To A Successful Change Management Initiative

Change is never easy and organizational change is, of course, especially difficult. Anxiety is generated because the failure rate is high—roughly two-thirds of organizational change initiatives fail. Yet organizations must evolve to stay competitive and relevant. When done well, organizational change leads to more satisfied employees, customers, and stakeholders. Indeed, excellent change management practices can become a competitive advantage. While every change initiative is unique and needs a situational plan, we’ve gathered six key practices that substantially increase the odds of success.

1. know your corporate culture before you start

Successful change initiatives reflect organizational culture. Tapping into how people typically think, feel, act, and work can help bring people on board emotionally, so they embrace change. It is important to look for the parts of an organization’s culture that align with the changes leaders want, or the tactics needed, and bring them front and center.

Some examples:

  • If your organization is risk-averse, it will be especially important to point out how your intended change will reduce risk, or how risk inherent in the undertaking will be avoided or mitigated.
  • When aiming to change ways of working in an environment where work has been done the same way for a long time, conduct a pilot to provide a “proof of concept,” or work with one group to make the change and then take on the stodgier departments.
  • In a top-down management culture, you’ll want to make sure there’s a strong edict and conspicuous backing from the leadership team; whereas in a grassroots culture, experiment and win allies among peers before taking your plans to the top.
  • Where accolades are prized, be sure to build recognition into your plans and communications, as in “when we are done, we are going to win an [external] award for this!” or “Prizes will be given to the department that [best demonstrates adoption of the desired change].”

2. Involve team members at all leveLs

Leaders often underestimate the influence mid-level and administrative employees can have on the success—or failure—of a change initiative. Initiating and sustaining change will go more smoothly if leaders consult with every level of an organization to gather input on the issues that will affect people and their work.

Employees, particularly administrative ones, are often the knowledge keepers in an organization about where potential pitfalls may occur and what kinds of technical and logistical things need to happen at the ground level to ensure success. Most importantly, employees will come around to and support changes more quickly if they feel their input was considered and incorporated into a change initiative.

3. accept that change is a process and take it step by step

It is natural to want a change initiative to happen quickly once the decision has been made. However, skipping steps—such as gathering input and aligning to organizational culture—only results in an illusion that things are moving faster and can result in delays and ultimate failure.

It is important to recognize that change will take time and you may encounter roadblocks or make missteps. It is useful to incorporate success measurements at different stages, including recognizing early-stage successes. Early wins, even small ones, generate momentum. And metrics help all participants recognize when the initiative is off track and make course corrections along the journey.

To ensure resilience in your change initiative, it is important to assess what is working and what isn’t, and support change from beginning to end. Remember the Kubler-Ross change curve you learned about in Psychology 101? It applies in businesses too – expect resistance, be patient, help your team get to acceptance and integration.Six Keys Blogpost image 1

4. Allocate enough resources

Change initiatives often aim to cut costs, but change requires resources—financial and human—to be successful. To emphasize that the investment is temporary, allocate budget separately to the change initiative. It is also beneficial to allocate part of a change initiative’s budget to operational improvements such as process design and training so that people understand and have the skills to adjust.

Adapt job responsibilities for key players so they can focus on the change initiative. It is crucial to avoid frustrating employees who believe in the project but don’t have the time, budget, or support to help it succeed.

5. build a diverse change leadership team

Modelling from the top is essential to a successful change initiative, but do not underestimate the superpowers amongst informal leaders. Enlist those who are popular and trusted to help motivate others.

Organizations that succeed with major change initiatives identify and engage receptionists, project managers or well-respected supervisors early on and directly in the change initiative. They can help at every stage – planning, communicating, training, supporting, and rewarding.

6. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Sustained change requires communication, not only throughout the rollout but after the major elements of the plan are in place. Too often, the change is announced, and all communications stop – whereas follow-through is critical, to ensure there is understanding, acceptance and adoption of the desired change. Some specific suggestions:

  • Tailor communications to different populations to ensure that employees know what is expected, why (including “what’s in it for me?"), and how they can contribute to the initiative’s success.
  • Employ a variety of forms: town halls, intranet, department meetings, and events where teams can highlight how they are supporting and benefiting from the change initiative.
  • Ensure two-way communications. Gather feedback, ascertain acceptance, uncover resistance.

Every organization will pursue a change initiative in different ways, unique to the organization and the change desired. But all need to consider the emotional components. Successful change is people-centered and supported by rational arguments as well as the emotional case for change. Human beings respond well to requests that engage both their hearts and their minds, making them feel like they are part of something important. Implementing these change management practices will help to create—or bolster—an organizational culture that is agile and resilient in the face of change, making adaptability an organizational strength for the long-term.


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