“Change is hard” – This is a common refrain after a tough project. Leaders must now explain going over budget and resistance bordering on rebellion based on the change that the organization just experienced. Change management professionals know these challenges are avoidable. We recognize these feelings and behaviors are indicators that the organization was not ready for change.
When stakeholders are asked to go through a change before they’re ready, they dig in and resist. In change management, this is known as a “barrier point.” The change is happening to them, not with them. This not only makes the change more difficult to implement, but it also creates resistance that causes delays in schedule, inflates the budget, or can even cause project failure. Using the best practices below allows organizations to overcome this barrier point and avoid these headaches.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Telling people what’s happening, what to expect, and why it’s important gives them a sense of control and more openness to listen and work with you.
- Sell the change. Simply informing stakeholders of the change is insufficient to drive engagement. You need buy-in – get them excited!
- Managers are critical. Managers will be key players, but you need to prepare them for their role in the change initiative.
Communication is the central tactic of preparing people for change. In the beginning stages, it takes the form of early mass communications when leaders unveil the new initiative, make a clear case for change, tell people how it will affect them, and walk them through the plan to get to the other side. It usually requires multiple broad-based communications from a respected leader. Keep the messages simple and clear about what is going to happen and what is expected of staff during the transition. After the general information is communicated, stakeholders will often need to be segmented into different groups for specifics on what the change will look like for each group (e.g., if you’re implementing a new bookkeeping system, your conversations with the IT and accounting teams will be very different). Set up opportunities for people to ask questions and get clarity on the change or review materials in their own time to allow people to grow comfortable with the change. The number-one rule is to not blindside people.
Getting buy-in by selling the change to your people is critical for a smooth transition. This is why making a compelling case for change is so important. People need to see the light of why the change is good for them, good for the company, or for its mission and values. Keep in mind that there is a hierarchy of needs for stakeholders and most of the time personal benefit or loss avoidance is a stronger motivator than changing for the good of the company. People must first want the change before they will seek the knowledge of how to change their behaviors. Until the barrier point is overcome, people will not be ready to actively engage with the initiative and it could stall out before going live.
During times of transition, managers often find themselves as the channel for two-way communication between leadership and front-line staff. While many of the major announcements will come from senior leadership, managers will be asked to cascade messages down and field the majority of the questions and concerns from front-line staff. Because of this, s you need to anticipate the common questions and provide key talking points to the managers so they are prepared to answer question and quash any wrong or misleading rumors that arise. Another benefit of informing managers before big announcements is to give them time to personally process the change and be ready to lead their teams through the change when the big announcements come. Lastly, managers are excellent at cutting through the noise and identifying and elevating any problems to the project team to help them catch needed adjustments early. With a well-informed and aligned set of managers, your teams will all row in the same direction and take a huge weight off the shoulders of the project team.
Without adequately readying your organization before launching into the change, you will diminish your expected results. Without the trust and buy-in of stakeholders, delays are common. The reality of this problem often sets in when you ask your stakeholders to participate in the initiative during discovery, testing, and training. Disengaged stakeholders often ignore requests, put forth minimal effort, or even actively try to derail progress. Sometimes people consciously act to derail these efforts to keep things the way they are, but often times it’s because expert stakeholders largely ignored your initiative and requests for feedback until close to the completion date. By the time they take a close look and find show-stopper problems in the design, it is too late. This can kill a project, even one that’s far along, but much of this is avoidable with effective readying.
Readying organizations is a standard part of any change management project with Collective Insights. We’ve successfully applied these methods at Fortune 500 companies for ERP implementations, cultural redesigns, IT system implementation, and organizational divestitures. Readying is a step that’s easy to overlook in the early commotion of a project, but there is a high price to pay if you do. Our consulting approach is to both advise and work for our clients to ensure the project both completes and it is regarded as a roaring success.