Group of people having a meeting, sticky notes on the wall outlining a plan.

Change is necessary. According to The Chief Reinvention Specialist, a blog run by business specialist Dr. Nadya Zhexembayeva, 33.6% of businesses surveyed said they need to reinvent themselves every 3-4 years to survive. 32.4% said every 4-5 years.

Innovation is the key to survival. Many think about “innovation” as externally quantifiable – an innovative product, for example. But innovation takes place internally as well when leaders and owners figure out how to make changes seamlessly and efficiently. In this respect, innovation is CHANGE, and companies that never change will most likely find it difficult to sustain and grow.

But change can be intimidating, especially on a large scale. How do you start? How do you even know what needs to be changed? How do you know whether your changes are working?

The answer to all of the above is effective, organizational change management.

What Is Organizational Change Management?

Change management boils down to guiding any change that affects your business. Marketing specialist Tim Stobierski put it this way in an article for the Harvard Business Review:

“Organizational change refers to the actions in which a company or business alters a major component of its organization…Organizational change management is the method of leveraging change to bring about a successful resolution.”

Keep in mind that some change happens most of the time and is a part of the daily shift that filters from discussion and decision-making. Small, transactional change is not really our focus here, but rather, larger, more significant change such as hiring new staff, upgrading your computer systems, or updating policies and procedures.

Why Having a Change Management Process Is So Important

Having a plan and a process for implementing change is efficient, helps make your business stronger, and saves money in the long run. Every company will undergo change, but a good blueprint for handling it can be the difference between success and stagnation.

Effective change management builds your company’s change competency and thus its adaptability. Communication doesn’t get bogged down in silos, employees have the opportunity to participate and provide input, and change moves forward smoothly.

Effective change management also lets everyone in your company know the important role they play in the ultimate success of the change. It means listening to everyone and involving everyone in the evolution of the business.

The Process of Change Management

Depending on the type of change being attempted, there may be a variety of processes that must be initiated and successfully managed.

Oftentimes companies will invest in structural change and overlook employee input, forgetting to make sure that the policies and procedures are cross-functional and well communicated. It’s often the human side of change that is the most important, and the hardest to get right.

Here are some general guidelines a team, department, or enterprise can take to better manage significant change:

  1. Recognize or identify the need for a change
  2. Accept that the change is important to progress
  3. Communicate that need and bring people together to work on a solution
  4. Develop a change plan or plans 
  5. Implement the plan(s)
  6. Track your progress and acknowledge successes
  7. Evaluate the change regularly to confirm it is being adopted

1. Recognize or Identify the Need for Change

Too many companies go without addressing needed changes, to their detriment. For example, when the WannaCry ransomware attacks happened in 2017, many of the systems affected would have been protected if they’d installed simple software upgrades or adhered to cybersecurity protocols. Instead, the data shows they left themselves wide open to attack.

Smart businesses are always self-evaluating, looking for areas that should change. If you believe you can operate indefinitely without change, you’re eventually going to pay a price for it. Oftentimes, change opens the door to opportunity.

2. Accept that the Change is Important to Progress

Be honest and objective about the need for change in your business. Maybe you need newer computer systems, or policies that were enacted ten years ago are bogging down the way your business functions today. Whatever it is, there’s no shame in recognizing that something has to change.

Many times, those in the position to make change happen are so committed to “how we do things,” they fail to understand their blindside. A good change management perspective is that what works today may not work tomorrow. We will only know if we continue to evaluate the processes we use and make sure all are on the same page. This leads us to number three.

3. Communicate The Need

Once an area of change is identified, it’s time to gain input. Open the lines of communication to the appropriate colleagues and staff to determine if the initial reaction is one that needs to be addressed more deeply.

An example of this could be: “We’ve seen a rise in hacking breaches and bad actors stealing customer information from company databases like ours. Therefore, we need to implement tighter security measures.” Make sure you’re not only communicating what the change is but also the risk presented to the company by not making that change.

Assemble a group that’s representative of everyone who will be affected and get their input so you can build the best plan. That group should include both employees and stakeholders.

4. Develop Your Change Plan

Once you’ve communicated what needs to be done and why you’ll hopefully have your colleagues on board and can move on to the planning phase. Gather the people best equipped to help the company navigate this change, and come up with a plan to address it.

When formulating your plan, it’s helpful to ask questions like:

  • What result do we want?
  • What exactly needs to be different for us to accomplish this goal?
  • How are we going to measure the changes?

Continuing with the cybersecurity example, you might decide on a company-wide system overhaul. That means installing new computers and software that every employee will need to learn how to operate. And those systems have to be markedly more secure than the previous ones.

Your plan will need to address many components through the process of implementation. The bigger the change, the broader the audience, and therefore the more crucial the plan for implementation.

5. Implement The Plan

When it’s time to begin the change, communicate to everyone what their role is in the change process itself. See that they fulfill it effectively through regular updates and communication.

For example, employees usually prefer to hear about the change itself from senior members of their company, but updates on how it will affect their work from their immediate supervisor. Senior management’s role thus becomes a sponsor of change, while immediate supervisors take on a role similar to a coach.

In our cybersecurity example, the change would be manifold. It would involve installing new computer systems and software, updating security protocols, and training staff on how to use these new systems. It would also involve basic cybersecurity training to reduce risk at the individual level. This training would be handled by supervisors and reported back to senior management in an effective communication chain.

6. Track Progress and Acknowledge Success

You can’t improve upon your change management skills if you don’t track what’s working and what isn’t. Set benchmarks as part of your initial plan, then go back and measure them once you’ve made the change.

This may reveal weaknesses you didn’t think of before, but it’ll also show who and what is performing better. Take the time to recognize those people who are doing an excellent job implementing the change— everyone appreciates being recognized for their hard work.

7. Evaluate the change regularly to confirm it is being adopted

Often an outside perspective helps to confirm that the change is working and has been appropriately adopted. Once again, in our example, you might hire a security specialist to test your new computer systems and check the integrity of their cybersecurity measures. Managers could also get feedback from employees on any areas of friction they encounter with the new protocols as well. If tweaks or additional change is required, respond with clear decision-making, then keep tracking and evaluating.

The Bottom Line

Change is never easy. We as humans tend to resist it. But by approaching a major change initiative with a well thought out process, you enable individuals and teams to begin digesting the change more quickly, allowing for input, and gaining ideas from a variety of angles, thus improving the odds for success.

Ready For A Change?

If you need a fresh perspective on your company’s processes or know you need to make a change but aren’t sure where to start, an outside expert can be a huge help. Bringing in a consultant can help identify areas of opportunity you might’ve missed, and create a plan to update them.

At Bellewether, we’ve been helping businesses with change management for decades. And we can help you, too. For more details and to get in touch, contact us.