How to effectively manage organizational change?

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How to effectively manage organizational changeLast week I attended a seminar by Richard Jolly, one of my former professors at London Business School. Professor Jolly does research in organizational behavior. One of his courses, “Managing Change” made a huge impact on me. In today’s fast-paced business environment, businesses need to effectively manage change in order to survive. Whether it is a change in product offering, streamlining the organization or moving to a lower-cost country, the change needs to be managed properly for the desired outcome to be realized. Academic reviews of change programs show that around 70% fail to achieve their objectives. There is a lot written about managing change, most renowned is the 8 step method by Dr. John Kotter in “Leading Change”. If I were to sum up what I believe to be the most important 5 steps to effectively manage organizational change I would say the following:

1. Create a powerful change vision

How to effectively manage organizational changeAs with any goal you want to achieve, you need to have a clear picture in your mind of what that goal looks like. A powerful change vision should appeal both to the mind and the heart of the employees and it should be easy for people at all levels of the organization to grasp. People in the organization need to clearly visualize the new opportunities that will arise when the change has been made. You can read more on how to do this in the article, “How to Create a Powerful Vision for Change”.

2. Assemble your “Change Dream Team”

No matter how talented you are as a leader, it’s very unlikely that you single-handedly can initiate and successfully implement organizational change. To be successful, you need to assemble a group of people, a “Change Dream Team” that can articulate and execute the strategy. The team needs to be comprised of people with enough organizational power to avoid change initiatives being blocked by other managers. The team also needs to have the required expertise and credibility to implement the change.

3. Over-communicate why change is needed

In order for a change program to succeed, employees need to understand and believe in the need for change. The only way for this to happen is if the change vision and strategy is communicated over and over again. There is no such thing as “communicating too much”. Information about the vision and how to reach there should be delivered in person. If it can’t be in person than broadcast video sessions throughout the organization. Change ignites a lot of emotion in people, to better convey and develop understanding, it’s crucial that messages are delivered with full body language and facial expressions. (For more on this please refer to Professor Albert Mehrabian’s communications research). Be honest in your communication and don’t try to “sell” the change, but do your best to visualize the vision. Complement the in-person communication with email, newsletters, blogs, posts, etc., communicate as early and as often as possible.

4. Create a sense of urgency

How to effectively manage organizational changeCreating and communicating a powerful change vision is not enough. In order for people to get out of their comfort zone and start executing, there needs to be a sense of urgency. A compelling picture of the desired future should be combined with a clear picture of the danger of accepting the status quo. Share facts that show the sense of urgency. This might be declining sales figures, declining market shares, rising costs, or innovation bottlenecks. It’s important to be honest in your communication and not to create a sense of doom, but instead communicate the positive need for change.

5. Celebrate milestones along the way

Change doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time. In order not to lose momentum, it’s important to celebrate milestones that you reach along the way. Research shows that companies that experience significant short-term wins are much more likely to complete the transformation. Identify short-term wins, with smaller targets that are achievable, and reward the people who were involved. The short-term wins help re-energize employees – nothing motivates as much as success. It helps show that the change is positive and that you are on the right track, it also helps quiet down naysayers.

Success breeds inertia

As humans, we are by nature resistant to change. We need to be aware and remind ourselves that success breeds inertia if something is working well, we stick to it. The problem with this is that today’s marketplace is extremely fast-paced, even if something is working well today, it might not tomorrow. When you realize that it’s not working anymore it might be too late to change. Make sure to constantly challenge your strategy, surround yourself with people who are not afraid to question your decisions and try to diversify your workforce to get different points of view.

(If you have difficulties reading this article, you can access the full article in pdf here)