4 Steps to Implementing Change
Making change a positive process
Every organization needs change. The world around us is always in flux and what works for us now may not be good for us in a year or two. Cultures change, trends change, technologies advance, and organizations grow. As these things happen, the organization’s needs change as well. In order for an organization to grow or to remain relevant in the future, it has to be responsive to external changes, be adaptable to these changes, and be able to transform its current system into something that answers its current needs.
As a leader, you have to keep an attitude that embraces change--even if your staff or managers may not embrace it with you. No matter what good it could bring, sometimes change is hard to accept because it typically involves people having to step out of their comfort zones. And that creates uncertainty. When a change is implemented, people typically question the stability of their position in the organization and how it would directly affect them and their role in the organization.
Even the simplest of change, such as rearranging office furniture, can cause tempers to fly, disputes to rise, and productivity to drop. I once had to resolve disputes involving seating arrangements; and believe me, it could get ugly.
Change creates anxiety. When you transfer an employee from one seat to another, s/he may ask, "Why was I transferred here and not there?" If s/he doesn't know why she was moved to a specific location, doubts and negativity may form in her/his mind. S/he may have appreciated looking out the office window every now and then and now s/he can't because you moved her/him right next to a windowless wall. Whatever the case may be, any form of change raises questions and discomforts--questions and discomforts that you as a leader have to address.
Now, I was talking about a simple change; imagine what could happen if you want to implement a major overhaul in your system!
In comes change management. Change management is the systematic transition of an organization from a current organizational practice to another. Which basically means easing the change in.
This is especially important if you want to implement cultural change. If you want to change your company's dress code, take away certain perks like playing music in the office, or change schedules and attendance policies for example, the worst thing you can do is to apply those changes in an instant. Let’s say you provide a flexi-time schedule, and tolerate wearing thongs and playing music on speakers for quite some time now. It is very likely that your employees have already built their lives around those rules.
You probably won't find corporate attire in their wardrobes, they've probably bought speakers exclusively for the office, and they've probably scheduled their weeks with the notion that they can put in hours whenever they want as long as they provide at least the minimum number of hours each day. Taking away those privileges require a lifestyle change that many would not welcome easily.
Note that even if you implemented the change instantaneously and it seems that everyone abided by it, grudges will invariably form. And grudges are the cancer of an organization's labor force. Once an employee starts holding a grudge against an organization or against you as a leader, you will no longer be able to expect 110% of his/her efforts.
Now while it’s granted that you can't please everyone, and not everyone is aligned with your beliefs; the important thing is to minimize grudges by simply implementing change with grace. This starts with the preparations we make before implementing change.
1. Analyze the System
This is a bit of a no-brainer but one that is easily forgotten: You must first analyze the system and determine whether or not it works; determine its strengths and weaknesses. Many times, managers tend to forget to do this for a number of reasons: It could be executive pressure or it could be a belief in a different system that they have experienced in a different organization. But not all systems work for every organization and every situation.
Every established organization already has an established system. It could be efficient or inefficient, but it's a system that the people in that organization are used to and most likely believe in. Employing a change on that system without understanding and analyzing it first could be devastating. Your first task, then, is to look at the system analytically and note down your perceived areas of improvement.
Never ever ever jump to the changes you want done.
2. Determine Shared Beliefs and Values
So now you have your list. Now, take a step back and determine your organization's culture. I'm not talking about the way your organization does things (though of course, that also comes into play); I'm talking about the organization's and it's departments' shared beliefs. This is an abstract concept that you wouldn’t be able to grasp without interacting with the members of your organization.
You need to answer:
A. How your members see themselves as a contributor to the progress of your organization.
B. Do they understand their value? Do they overvalue or undervalue themselves?
C. Why are they there? What do they like most about the company? The perks? The privileges? The lifestyle it promotes?
I would recommend ‘funneling in’ on your observations. First, look at the organization from a macro perspective. Determine what kind of lifestyle your current setup promotes. Are you a laid-back startup or are do you abide by strict corporate convention?
Now ask yourself, which is the core department of your organization; meaning, which one is favored more than the rest?
Yes, every organization always has one or two departments that are favored more than the others. Some organizations may prioritize sales and marketing, others may prioritize engineering, while still others may focus on customer service. This all depends on the organization's vision on what the company should be and where the company should go.
Look around your office and observe how each department relate to each other within their group, how they relate with the people outside their department, and how they view their department's contribution to the organization. Most importantly, observe how the current system melds into your employees’ shared beliefs.
Finally, once you find an answer to these questions, look back on your notes. Specifically look at your perceived "weaknesses". Are they still weaknesses or are they actually elements that complement your organization's culture? If they're still weaknesses, and the changes are still necessary, you can determine your approach in implementing them based on your organization’s culture and beliefs.
3. Start Developing the Strategies
Now that you have your list of changes with you, you can start developing the implementation strategy. Here's what you want to see in it:
A. Flowchart of the current system
After analyzing the system, you’ve probably already created a flow chart. This is important in providing a visual aid for when you present the current system to your organization’s members.
B. Weaknesses of the current system
Like in letter A, you probably already have this. It’s also important to list them down for when you present to the members of the organization.
C. Proposed changes and objectives of these changes
This is where you will list down the changes that you want to see and why.
D. Create targets or KPIs
Once you’ve decided on the changes you want to see, create targets. Be realistic in your targets and adjust them when necessary. Create a schedule from the introduction of the change to its full implementation.
Let’s say you find it completely necessary to let go of your flexi-time schedule in favor of a fixed sched. This is not something you can implement off-the-bat. You have to give your employees some time to adjust. For the first months, for example, you could allow a semi-flexible schedule. Say, require them to log on to work between 10am to 10pm. Then afterward, provide a fixed schedule with a liberal grace period. And then finally, let go of the liberal grace period and fully implement the fixed schedule.
Another thing you have to do is to determine each person’s role in making the change. Everyone in your organization--from the rank and file employees to the managers--should have a responsibility in the implementation and the success or failure of the initiative. This not only ensures that everyone is informed of the change, it also projects change as a developmental process that aims to see not only the growth of the organization, but its employees as well.
If you want more customer-focused employees, for example, determine each department’s role and their expected contribution. What new products or systems could the engineering team build to promote this new focus? What kind of training would you want the training team to give your support team? What kind of new scoring system would you want your QA team to implement?
If you create a specific task for every member of your organization--tasks that would contribute to the success of your change initiative, you directly address their anxiety with the change and acknowledge them as a positive contributor to your organization. It acknowledges that their role is directly affected by the initiative but that the stability of their role is not. It therefore encourages a positive attitude towards the change and turns them into stakeholders (as opposed to victims) of the initiative.
Write down the challenges you may encounter along the way. Include challenges that may be outside your organization’s control; such as a a delay from a third party provider, a sudden national economic shift, or a natural disaster.
Write down a positive and a negative forecast. The positive forecast should project all the positive effects that the change initiative would bring, such as an increase in revenue, a better product, better customer service, etc. The negative forecast should identify trigger points or failures along the way that would require you to take action. Also include all the setbacks that the organization may experience should the change initiative fail.
Lastly, once you’ve written down a coherent development strategy, hold an open forum with your managers and supervisors. I used ‘open forum’ instead of ‘meeting’ because I want to emphasize an open discussion. You’re not going into that meeting room to simply announce the changes you want to implement. You’re going there to discuss a possible change that could possibly provide positive returns to your organization and your staff.
You want to make the change and the decision in making the change as democratic as possible. Note that your employees are the foothold of your business. Your staff are your partners in your business and you should extend all efforts to make your staff know and feel that.
If the change you want to implement is absolutely necessary but isn’t popular among your managers, get them to understand its necessity, compromise wherever possible, and make the transition as comfortable as possible.
Identify evangelists from your rank-and-file employees as well. Determine who among them are the influencers within their team and get their buy-ins. These evangelists will help everyone understand the change and feel comfortable about it.
The success of a change initiative is only possible if you have the support of your staff. Remember that for every change you make on your organization, your staff are the most affected parties. If you don’t turn them into stakeholders of the change early on, they could end up feeling victimized by it. A strong dissent in a change could lead to devastating results for your business. If the change initiative you insist on your staff proves to be more than they could handle, you may end up a with a throng of employees walking out your office door and never coming back.
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