In today's fast-paced, dynamic business environments, perhaps the only constant professionals can rely on is change. Organizations must be nimble and willing to make decisions quickly, and those that are able to do this will generally face a lot of change in short periods of time. This change could be organization-wide or team-based, and might stem from any number of factors, from technology to internal operating needs to finances to politics.
While change can often be a good thing, it's something that many individuals are uncomfortable with, or even fear. To many employees, hearing of coming changes implies negative outcomes: the loss of a job; a new manager; a restructured team; company-wide layoffs; reduced pay or benefits. As a leader, it's your responsibility to set the tone for your team and prepare yourself for managing organizational change as effectively as possible, helping your reports to understand and navigate this change as best you can. This is no easy task, especially when you might not have all the necessary information or have mixed feelings about the changes the organization is facing yourself!
That being said, learning how to manage organizational change is a key component of leadership. If you're facing changes within your business and want to learn more about the change management process, here are some of the key organizational change management strategies you can employ.
What Are the Best Change Management Strategies?
While there are many ways leaders can manage change, some of the best change management strategies include planning, transparency and honesty, communication, and employee participation. We go into more detail on these, along with some other key change management strategies, below.
Managing Change in Organizations
1. Plan Carefully
Before you bring proposed change to your team, make sure you have a clear plan in place that covers, at a minimum, when, how, and why the change is taking place. Ideally, you'll have documented the tasks needed to get you to where you want to be, outlined new or changing responsibilities for anyone affected, crafted a fully-developed timeline, and come up with responses to address potential concerns.
2. Be as Transparent as Possible
One of the tricky parts about organizational change is that it will often arrive in phases, or will involve a level of confidentiality on the part of the management team or certain individuals. However, especially when the change will be a major one, it's helpful to be as transparent as possible with your employees - even if you can't give them all of the details, being upfront about the pieces you can share (and clearly explaining their impact) will go a long way towards helping your staff feel more comfortable.
3. Tell the Truth
This is an easy rule to follow when the change in question is positive; when the change is in response to challenging circumstances or will result in short-term negative outcomes, this becomes trickier. However, being honest with your staff to the extent that you're able to is usually the best route: sugarcoating, presenting things in an overly optimistic way, and promising unrealistic outcomes will just make your staff suspicious and distrustful of your motives. While it's important, as a manager, to present an optimistic front to your team, do so in a way that acknowledges potential challenges and drawbacks.
Keep the lines of communication open between you and your employees. Take the time to explain why the change is happening, and what it will look like in practice. Make yourself open to questions, hold team meetings, and invite your reports to come see you and talk through their concerns or thoughts in a neutral atmosphere.
5. Create a Roadmap
Help your employees understand where the organization is, where it's been, and where it's going. How does the change play into the business's history, and how is it going to shape its future? Laying this out clearly will demonstrate the thought and strategy behind the change, and will help staff see how it fits into, or is evolving from, the business model they've become accustomed to.
6. Provide Training
When the change involves shifts in technologies or processes, provide adequate training for your employees to help them master the new way of doing things. And make sure that you convey that this training will be available when the change is announced, so as to avoid employees feeling like they'll be left behind due to lack of skill or experience.
7. Invite Participation
Although this won't always be possible, giving employees the opportunity to participate in, or give feedback on, decisions can be a really positive strategy. Employees will be grateful for the chance to make their voices heard, and it can also be a great way to get different perspectives and understand impacts you might not have thought of otherwise.
8. Don't Expect to Implement Change Overnight
A longer, more strategic rollout is almost always the best option, rather than a hasty shift in direction. Not only will you give your employees a chance to adjust to the change, you'll be able to answer questions and address any issues well in advance of the change going into place. Additionally, people are generally slow to adopt new habits, so this will give your staff a chance to familiarize themselves with the new way of doing things and gradually phase out old practices in a more natural way.
9. Monitor and Measure
Once the change process is in motion, it's important to maintain consistent oversight over implementation and rollout to ensure that things go smoothly and that you'll ultimately be successful. Keep a close eye on potential problems, and address any issues in a timely manner. Define metrics to measure success, and continually monitor them to make sure that you're staying on track. And continually touch base with key stakeholders to gauge their perceptions and get any relevant feedback.
10. Demonstrate Strong Leadership
Above all else, remember to go back to basics and focus on maintaining and exemplifying the qualities of a great leader. Inspire your team; demonstrate strategic thinking; be open-minded and flexible; and show your team that they can depend on you to have their best interests at heart. A strong leader can help their team weather the storms of change with confidence and clear-sightedness, no matter how challenging they might be.
Building Organizational Change Strategies
As manager, having a pool of change management strategies you can draw on at any time is essential to strong leadership. While some change management skills can be built through real-world experience, one of the best ways to develop this skillset is to go back to school to pursue education in the field. There are many degrees and certificates available in related subjects; for example, a certificate in positive organization development will focus heavily on change management. For a broader education that will help you build other high-level skills in addition to change management, you may want to consider a master's in leadership, or an MBA program with a leadership focus.
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