Best Practice Change Management
Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new" - from "The Prince" by Machiavelli
From the large number of change management experiences that we have been involved in, we have drawn up the following list of "best-practice" guidelines of approaches that best practice organisations employ.
Six Best Practice Tips
1. Think long and hard - and then act quickly
All change programmes involve three phases:
- a phase where a group (perhaps the management team) develops a change strategy in terms of what changes are needed and how should they be introduced,
- a phase of planning and activity, perhaps following an announcement, where the changes are introduced.
- a phase of bedding-in and finalising the changes
Such phases always exist, although often they may be indistinct and informal.
There is a danger in trying to rush the first stage, "Developing a Change Strategy". Organisations that do so often end-up designing changes on-the-run and inventing ideas as they go along, with the result that nobody really knows what is going on.
With the second stage of "Detailed Planning & Implementation", there is a danger of letting the implementation of the changes spread over too long a timescale - of going too slowly. Organisations that do this often find that other problems arise - productivity falls as people try to cope with both old and new working practices, a "planning blight" develops stopping other things happening, or people that they wish to retain leave and go elsewhere.
As a general rule, it seems to be best to "Think long and hard and then act quickly".
- Thus, don't rush the first phase of developing the change strategy, but invest time and effort in it.
- Then when that is clear, plan and implement the changes very quickly.
- This allows the "old" practices to be forgotten and the new organisation to take over and become the norm.
2. Develop a Change Strategy
Invest time in developing a change strategy covering:
- the key change issues - the problems/difficulties that we are attempting to resolve
- a view - of the outcome sought, of what we are attempting to achieve
- the changes - what changes will need to take place to achieve that outcome
- the overall plan - how those changes will be introduced
- people strategy - what issues people will face and how they will be managed
- managing the transition - mechanisms to minimise the difficulties and disruption caused by the introduction of the changes
Doing this provides a more comprehensive and robust change plan, the opportunity to build consensus in the top team, and the information needed for a communication exercise.
3. Build cohesion and commitment in the top-team
Leadership from the top is key to all such change.
To do that the top team needs to signal that it is organised, committed, and considerate. If the team itself is in disarray, then the staff fairly quickly lose trust in them. Developing the change strategy, planning the changes, and communicating are three key elements in this.
4. Have a People Strategy
In radical change, people react as individuals and need to be managed as such. When the changes are finally announced, their eyes will drop whilst they think about their own agendas - career, promotion, pensions, their new team leader, who they would be sitting next to, etc. That's the reality.
At this point traditional management tools (annual appraisals etc,) lose influence - they just don’t seem so relevant to people. What people do want are things like:
- Be fair about it. Be honest.
- If you must do this to me, at least be organised and efficient about it.
- Be open with me and give me the information I need to sort out my future.
- And sometimes - listen to me, at least let me help you get it right this time.
The key step is to accept this, and formulate a strategy for achieving it. Two key elements are:
Use the "line"
For people in this situation, management is their line manager. If people want to know something, they ask their colleagues and their line manager. Although Project Teams and Newsletters have a role to play in change management, when it comes to staff morale and involvement line management is the best way forward.
The task of senior management is to facilitate this by creating the conditions that enable this to happen.
Involve People - Involvement works.
If you can do it you get a better end-result, less muddle in the middle, and people who really understand what is going on and what the implications for them are. The best way is to get them working in workshops or project teams on how the changes affect their own work processes - an area they know better than anyone else. Its not always feasible but the benefits are massive.
5. Communicate well - continually
Most changes that run into difficulties do so because people become confused, worried, unsure what is going on, and upset and angry. Some of these feelings are inevitable but others are caused by lack of information and an enforced reliance on rumours for information. The following are the core elements of any change communications strategy:
- Start to find-out what people
really think and feel about the changes.
There are various possibilities, the main ones being surveys, by simply talking more to people, and staff workshops. The last two are by far the most effective.
- Help staff to have a view, a hook
to hang things on.
Although a change programme may seem to form a coherent, logical whole when it is formulated, for people in the organisation everything can become mixed up as confusing bits and pieces of detailed changes when things actually start happening. It helps if people can have a simple view as to where it is all leading, something that helps them make sense of things. Memos and presentations can help but meetings and workshops are far better - in these situations people need to "talk and think" about the changes before they can make sense.
- Try to be Open.
The temptation is often to try and keep things secret until the whole picture is available, on the basis that “If we tell people they will only worry”.Unfortunately, secrecy tends to encourage rumours, rumours that are often many times worse than the reality. People don't criticise managers for saying “We have received this, we are not sure about the implications, but we will tell you more when we can”.
6. Finally - manage to minimise the "muddle-in-the-middle"
The costs and disruption of change can be horrendous. Often hidden, they are not all inevitable - most can be avoided. The article "Managing Radical Change" describes this in some detail and describes two cases. In the first case were no major disruptions. In contrast, in the second case the company paid the price with severe costs, disruption, and dissatisfied customers.
- Be organised and efficient -
Project Manage the changes.
Otherwise you end up doing silly things that unnecessarily upset staff, like redundancy notices sent out in the week before Christmas. Such mishaps travel the grapevine at the speed of light.
- Manage Productivity losses.
In any change programme, time is lost because people are worried and stressed. They need training on the new arrangements, and you need some “parallel running” during the changeover. All these reduce productivity and lead to errors and work “backlogs”. Typically, productivity can fall by 25% to 50% during change.
- Treat people fairly
In practice, people won't feel too concerned about maintaining files and caring for their customers if they feel that the changes are being badly managed and that no-one cares.