When most change initiatives fail, follow the right path to success


For many people, life is fast-paced and ever-evolving, especially in the workplace where our culture dictates an environment of speed and change. Successful change is a modern-day challenge, so it’s vital that both HR professionals and business leaders understand the aspects and impact that change can have on employees and other leaders. Successful results depend on workforce engagement and effective leadership, which applies whether the change relates directly to them as an individual, or not.

In today’s business world, change is inevitable. Be it processes, consumers, systems or technology, there are no guarantees that things will stay the same; so although you can’t predict what will happen, you can predict that change will happen and plan accordingly.

All aboard!

The best advocates are those who understand the need for change and the strategic imperatives that drive those decisions. They will play a huge role in engaging and motivating others. Employees will have natural concerns and possible anxieties which will produce some form of resistance. Leaders need to listen to understand where this resistance is coming from to help alleviate the concerns and to convey a vision of where everyone is heading. By including team members in any feasible decisions, they can create a sense of common ownership and enthusiasm.

Leaders shouldn’t underestimate the variances of how people cope with change, especially as our emotions influence our behaviours and actions. Being authentic and showing compassion to employees will go far in encouraging their buy-in.

“What’s in it for me?” is the question that drives most employees; so let them know. There may be positive benefits to the change for them, new opportunities or better support for example. Creating a practical vision they can relate to is essential.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

“Nothing undermines change more than behaviour by important individuals that is inconsistent with the verbal communication” ~ John Kotter, Leading Change.

Planning communication is fundamental in any successful change programme. Starting by identifying key stakeholders, i.e. those who will be influential and have a role to play to champion the programme, is an essential first step. Stakeholders have their own thoughts and perspectives, so engaging with them and listening to their viewpoints is crucial. The likelihood is that they will know more about how the change may impact others and business interdependencies better than you. If they aren’t engaged and they are the key people, how can others be?

When it comes to communication channels, their effectiveness will depend on whether you are communicating to culturally different parts of the business, where some employees may not have access to email 24/7, where there are remote workers, or where people work in different time zones. Decide which channels to utilise to best engage your employees and work your plan around those, ensuring consistency throughout.

Communicate simply and consistently to gain the best understanding of the change programme. Be clear on what changes and what doesn’t. Don’t muddy the waters by communicating information which is not relevant; stick to the ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘when’ and ‘how’.

Change communication requires constant reinforcement so it’s important to include in the plan regular messaging, aligned and connected, and open two-way communication for check-in, updates, questions and concerns.

Regular, transparent messaging, together with face to face meetings, such as town halls and team meetings, gives employees the chance to interact and will ensure that rumours are kept at bay or are addressed at the earliest opportunity so they can be dealt with before they spread across the business.

Closing the loop

It is essential to answer all questions whenever possible. Don’t provide incorrect information; instead, agree to get back with the answer as soon as possible if the answer isn’t to hand. Including the thought process behind a decision is valuable in reassuring employees that their views have been taken on board and listened to.

Change often involves an element of trial and error but it’s important not to attribute any blame to the process or to an individual/group. Support of the change programme is key to engagement so recognise delays or disappointing outcomes but focus on improvement as a result and what’s next to be delivered. Similarly, it’s essential to always identify and celebrate successful outcomes and people’s achievements.

Change programmes are implemented for a reason, many hours are spent defining and refining the process. Stakeholders and managers work hard to engage, motivate teams, and communicate regularly and clearly. To ensure that these changes continue to be applied, regular reviews and communication needs to continue to avoid reverting to old habits and ensuring new employees are also on-board.

Change can be a very complex area and whilst we focus on following the right processes, it is just as imperative that we ensure our people understand why change is necessary and what the reasons are behind the decisions to change. With our employees onboard, our chances of success are much greater.

For further help and advice on this topic, or if you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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