PUBLISHED IN RMAI INSIGHTS MAGAZINE FALL 2019 EDITION
Change has become the challenge of our age. Today in just about every aspect of business and life, change seems to be happening at a faster pace than ever. The needs of the market place are evolving rapidly and often shift in unexpected ways. Our personal lives are impacted by factors like technology, economic conditions, politics, and simply the passage of time.
The Dual Aspects of Change
The first real step to bringing about change is to understand how to look at it. How someone sees change can certainly affect how he or she responds to it. Each person tends to look at change differently based on experience. But even within their daily lives their approach to change can vary with circumstance, state of mind, or whether the change was one that they planned or one that was planned for them.
The Chinese character for change is a pictograph that consists of two parts: one signifies danger and the other opportunity. Both aspects are truly present in any change.
On the whole, peoples’ reaction during times of transition will probably follow a pattern based on the images of change that they have developed. If change seems dangerous, then they may tend to respond defensively or even feel threatened. Some people are reluctant to change; others embrace it.
To effectively implement change, however, you must see change as more than just danger. If you can, then you will not be paralyzed by change because you will be able to view risks as opportunities and challenges as lessons. A person who views uncertainty as the rule and not as the exception will feel less anxious when the unexpected occurs.
Asking the Right Questions
Now that you have positively framed the change that you want your organization to implement, it’s time to ask a series of questions:
What? What change are you actually trying to bring about? What mission are you on and what is the vision? Begin with the end in mind here.
Why? Why is it important that your organization make this change? What are the driving factors e.g., market conditions, competition, current or potential crises, major opportunities, etc.
How? What is the plan to roll out and ultimately implement this change? The strategy should include details on how to communicate, actions for operational teams, and even ideas on how to deal with resistance to the change. This is the proverbial fail to plan or plan to fail adage.
When? When do you need to get underway and what is the timeline to execute the change? This is where you create a sense of importance and a sense of urgency.
Who? Who is going to be involved in the change and help you communicate the vision and message? Who will be affected by the change? You need to consider the perspective of your employees and whether they are more likely to embrace the change or resist it.
Impact? What impact will the change have on the organization? What impact will it have on your employees? When faced with making a change, people will often ask “What’s in it for me?” Leaders who understand the impact change can potentially have on a person will know how to best communicate and ensure that the change does not create fear of the unknown.
Barriers? What are the perceived or real obstacles to achieving success when implementing the change? Alternatively, who might potentially be a barrier to the change?
Support? This is the most important question. What kind of support for the change can be expected? Ask yourself who supports the initiative and can be an influencer or an agent of change to help encourage others to adopt it.
Costs? What are the costs in terms of time and dollars? What are the intangible costs such as potentially reduced morale or even employee attrition? What is the cost of not making the change?
Benefits? What are the short-term benefits as well as the longterm gains for the organization? The answers to these questions should complement the answer to the question of why. There must be a compelling, beneficial reason to implement the change.
Taking the Next Steps
Once you have arrived at the answers to these questions it’s time to take action.
1. Involve Others Armed with your sense of urgency, communicate the overall objectives of the change – the reasons for it and how and when it will occur to your leadership team. It is important to involve others as part of the process to help foster a sense of ownership of the change.
2. Plan your Strategy Together With collaboration from your leadership team, finalize the plan and the supporting strategies for achieving the change effort and realizing the vision. If two heads are better than one, then three or more should be even better still.
3. Over-Communicate! Communicating the change is critical in order to promote a unified sense of direction. The message of change needs to be consistent no matter who is conveying it. Getting the message out in advance should allow early adopters to begin to see the benefits of the proposed change and embrace them. Consequently, unclear, inconsistent, and infrequent communication can foster ignorance, confusion, or fear and resentment of the proposed change.
4. Execute The ability to implement and execute on the plan is paramount to your team’s success. You must remain focused, and demonstrate to your team that you can be disciplined and not be distracted by things that might interrupt progress. Focus more on the people making the change rather than the plan or the change itself. Remember: nothing ever really stays the same. Change is always present and although every change may not be an improvement, without change, there can be no improvement. The question should not be “Will we change?” but more importantly “When will we change and by how much?”
Leaders who understand the impact change can potentially have on a person will know how to best communicate and ensure that the change does not create fear of the unknown.