By Stephanie Stevens
If dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it's that change is constant and inevitable, especially in today's rapidly-shifting social and professional environments. The question is, how should management implement significant change without completely disrupting an organization?
Executive teams and managers must find the method that works best for their workforce. In the end, the easier you make the journey for everyone involved, the sooner you will see benefits and the more likely your company will be successful. Try using the basic principles of change management shared by UCSD Extension instructor Elese Coit – an expert in the field since 2007 – who notes that it's essential to use your personal insight to relate to and consider how change affects your employees.
What is change management?
Based on a number of disciplines – including social and behavioral science, project management, information technology, engineering and systems (aka "big picture") thinking – change management focuses on the idea that leaders must communicate effectively to lead change effectively.
Why is change management necessary?
We need to manage change because people tend to fear it if they don't understand why it's happening or how it will affect them. The practice of change management focuses on providing the necessary communication tools to help guide organizations smoothly through big shifts in the workplace. Instead of chaos and confusion or pushback, management receives feedback and (eventually) buy-in.
How do you start?
When done well, change management reduces stress and anxiety, lessens the potential for a negative impact on productivity, and can help managers engage (or re-engage) with the workforce. While there are a number of change management models, Coit, who teaches Leading and Managing Change for UCSD Extension, suggests starting with these five basic ideas, referred to as the CHAPS method:
- Clarity: Clearly communicate where your organization sits currently and where you want change to take you. What outcomes do you want to see at the end? Share that vision. If you're unsure, you can also say, "We're figuring it out." The important thing is to understand that being transparent helps people feel better about change.
- Honesty: Share how the processes will be changing, even if you anticipate it will be controversial. You'll maintain credibility with your audience. And even if you're not feeling especially calm or grounded, do your best to tap into that headspace before sharing information.
- Agreement: This can be a difficult one. Don't just dictate. Get buy-in from the organization, or you'll be fighting against the tide. Be willing to test the waters with select staff members to gauge reactions and adjust your message as needed.
- People-Focused: Empathize and relate. What is it going to take for individuals to change? Tune in and pay attention to behavioral changes in your employees and how interactions shift.
- Self-Attune: The emotional state you're in has a lot to do with how the message is received. Practice being in an insightful headspace. Be aware of when you're feeling calm and grounded and when you're not. If people perceive you as being disconnected or stressed, it can negatively affect your message.
What will happen once changes have been shared with the organization?
A lot depends on how well your message was communicated and received, but, in general, you can expect the following stages once you've shared the news:
- React: The reality of change begins to set in. Remember that even if the messaging is well-executed, it will likely take time for the organization to adjust to it.
- Respond: A critical point in the process of change, this is the stage when employees will express concern, anger, resentment or fear of change. If poorly managed, chaos or crisis may follow. Remember, it's not personal. Remain calm and empathetic.
- Regroup: This is a turning point for the organization and when employees will explore what the change means to them and the organization. Be sure to provide training, if necessary, and give employees a significant amount of time to get through this stage.
- Reinforce: This stage is when you begin to see the benefits of the change. Make sure to celebrate success and show appreciation to your staff for their contributions!
On Ensuring Success
It may seem like a lot of extra work to consider more than just the essential logistics of organizational change, but minimizing the disruption for your employees helps you build the foundation for a successful process and limits the negative impact on your company's performance.
To learn more about change management's principles and practices, take a Change Management class with us, or contact our Corporate Education & Custom Training department to bring training to your organization.
Do you have some examples of consciously managing change that worked out well? Please share them with us in the comments.