It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change. ~Charles Darwin
Change is just a fact of life. Many people constantly revisit – how hard it is, how necessary it is, how to approach it, how to survive it. There are articles, white papers, books and entire companies focused on managing change. We’ve all endured changes large and small; we manage to make it through some unscathed and others in turmoil.
In our business, we believe in the power of change – looking for ways to evolve and be better than yesterday. In order to meet the growing needs of our clients in an increasingly tough market, we’ve made a round of big changes recently and went through a highly respected training process to help us prepare to do it right. It’s too early to tell whether we learned all the lessons, but I can say we are better off for having followed a system of basic steps that anyone can implement when facing change.
As managers and business owners alike look to the coming year knowing elements of change will be part of it, there are a few recommendations that may guide your efforts.
Start Early – Know who will lead the change and who will manage the change and allow them time to prepare a plan. Too often, change is underway before affected people become aware of it, and it’s too late to get their buy-in. Make time for an awareness campaign before you begin the actual change process.
Communicate – Have a plan for getting the message out, make sure the right people are delivering the message and, in turn, that it’s getting to the right people. Communicate regularly to set expectations, provide updates, review progress and reinforce compliance. Remember that communication also includes listening. You won’t know where the pockets of anxiety or resistance are if you don’t listen for them. (Dale Carnegie e-tip, 9/15/11)
Have a Plan – Most organizations know that having a good project plan and a good project manager improve the chances of success. Whether you’re dealing with a change to your mission or strategy, your operation or structure, or your technology—having a plan that addresses who, what, when, where, how and why is key. And you can’t leave out any of those if you expect to be successful.
Define Success – Establishing a clear goal (not just a target date) and the tools, training and resources to achieve it seems remarkably obvious, but too often the plan has lots of momentum at the start and energy flags toward the end. This is where leadership makes the difference and celebrating milestones can help generate enthusiasm for completing the change. We know things can get in the way and targets may shift, but be sure to document and redefine the “end state” as needed so everyone understands how to achieve success.
Reinforce – Have you watched people learn and practice a new skill only to go back to the way they’ve always done it? How long do you think it took Tiger Woods to be comfortable with his new swing after knee trouble forced him to abandon the old one? Even when you believe in the reason, habits can be hard to change. Without support and positive reinforcement, it’s easy to succumb to the temptation to do it the “old way”.
For most of us change is inevitable. While there is certainly value in consistency, there is also tremendous value in effectively managing change. An organized approach will help minimize the anxiety and distress and allow you to experience the benefits of change. We’ll let you know how our company did in a future posting.