Let’s face it, change is neither easy nor fun. It’s work and takes a ton of energy and commitment to succeed. Change is disruptive to the status quo, and when leaders dismiss its impacts with statements like ‘It’s just business,’ it becomes personal. Most change-related initiatives affect the entire organization and take employees who are used to doing their work a certain way out of their comfort zone.
To execute effective change enablement leadership must guide employees through the process while encouraging them to go to their discomfort zone, where innovation, inspiration, and personal growth thrive. Leadership must also understand that some people will move past this space into the panic zone, where fear and uncertainty reside. If they do, they may shut down or even disrupt or undermine the success of the project.
In addition to the many system or process changes associated with a business transformation, there are impacts to how people perceive their contribution within their job and the broader organization. Their job functions, tasks, and responsibilities may change. They may need new and specialized training; they can feel inadequate and fear their ‘old’ skills will render them obsolete. In fact, the vast majority of business transformation failures are due to leaders ignoring the impacts of change on their staff.
So, let’s say you have taken the necessary steps to engage team members from the onset. You have solicited feedback for issues, opportunities, and threats relative to the project, and you have provided comprehensive communications and planned well for deployment. Yet despite your best efforts and investments you still have pockets of resistance. There are and will be people who still want things to stay the same and question the value or need to change. They think, ‘Hey, if it ain’t broke why fix it?’
What do you do? Here are five key steps leadership and project teams can take to address these issues.
- Provide Leadership. Deliver clear, consistent, and repeated articulation of the vision and goals of the project and link them to the overall enterprise goals and strategies. Help teams see the bigger picture and how their adoption is critical to success. In many cases, a leadership team will fail to realize and understand the importance of this role. Most teams plan for a new system for months, if not years, but fail to realize that end-users might only have learned about it recently and still question the need for change. For example, instead of understanding how the system will help your business grow, be more competitive, and better serve your customers they might deduce that is an easy way to cut costs and eliminate staff.
- Communicate Early and Often. Let your teams know what to expect and when to expect it by being honest and clear in your communications. Let them know what is required of them and the channels of communication they have available to ask questions and provide feedback. Mix up the channels you use – email should not be the answer for everything. Use face-to-face opportunities like town halls and department meetings when the message is broad and there’s benefit to an open forum. Use channels employees use and are easy for people to access – and move beyond those, when possible. Find out who key influencers are and empower them with messaging. Be aware of the fine line between frequent communication and spamming the organization.
- Address the Naysayers. A business or digital transformation project is a big deal. It costs a lot of money, impacts the organization over an extended period of time, and presents significant long-term business implications. It is important to be clear about the need for change and to speak openly and honestly with resisters. Employ the Steven Covey idiom ‘Seek first to understand and then be understood.’ Give people a chance to express themselves. Then take the time to communicate the importance of the changes and make sure they understand any consequences to both themselves and the project if they continue to resist.
- Assign Accountability. In most cases, if you make people accountable and responsible you will get ownership. Most professionals don’t want to be micromanaged, and most managers and leaders fail to get the most out of their teams as a result. While you must consider feelings and concerns regarding change, employees have to take personal responsibility for onboarding changes or get out of the way. Taking time to establish personal goals and document measurable benefits is key to getting everyone on board with the plan.
- Look for Signs of Resistance. If you have articulated the needs well, most of your team will embrace the changes. Still, there will be some that won’t be happy but won’t say anything. Be on the lookout for telltale signs like reduced productivity, absenteeism, and conflict. If left unaddressed, these behaviors will slow the change adoption and limit the expected benefits of the new system.
I hope you find this advice helpful. When using it remember that business transformation projects are a big deal and a necessary part of a company’s growth strategy. To be a viable competitor a company has to embrace and manage change. Instilling a culture of continuous improvement and change is a driving force to ongoing success. It is a core competency of leadership. It will take time and effort, but if managed effectively it will be worth it when productivity, morale, and profits begin to grow.