The Change Process
In essence, when you make a change you are moving away from one thing, towards another. Processes or way of working might change, or there might be people changes, in all cases, there is a current situation, and later on, a different one. In a company, change may be quick, or a gradual evolution over time. In general, enormous resources and time go into managing change.
In simple terms, the process of change has three stages:
Warm Up - getting ready to make the change
Transition - making the change
Embedding - reinforcing and stabilising the change so that it is sustainable
I'm sure in the past you've had new ways of working, or new organisation structures sprung on you with little notice, you might be wondering where the warm up was! This kind of change is common. Business needs may mean managers need to act quickly; the temptation understandably is to move straight into transition, this is where traditionally most of the time has been spent in managing change. The same time constraints often mean that once the change is in place, managers move on to the next change, the next issue, and behind them the change they have just made quietly unravels. This can lead to frustration and confusion, and more work down the line to go back and address issues when change doesn't last.
So how can we make change more effective? Change happens because people change the way they individually work, they start to do things in new ways, one by one. That means that you can't really control or tightly manage change, your workforce are the people who really make it happen, not you. The good news is that you CAN facilitate change and make it easier, and more successful. To find out how, read on.
Warming your people up
Warming people up to change doesn't need to take a long time. It can be really quite quick, and in the long run it will save you both time and money.
In one business I used to support, I remember the Managing Director gathering all his employees together, and explaining to them a significant change that the business they were facing. The business was merging with a former competitor, and to make it work he really needed people to get involved. Having explained what was at stake and why the merger was needed, he asked employees for their help. He asked them to get involved and put their ideas forward, and they did. I can remember vividly the sense of energy people felt, even though the company faced a big challenge which would mean a lot of upheaval for many of the people working there. Their support and the quality of their input undoubtedly helped to make the change successful.
In this initial stage of change, warm up, your goal is to create clarity, and develop momentum. This is the stage where you plan the things that can be planned, thinking through what change is needed, and how you might facilitate it.
Exercise: Raising the temperature before a change:
What's the context for change- how can I explain it in a compelling way?
What needs to change? How will we measure success?
Who will actively lead this change? How are they feeling about it? How can we galvanise support?
Who is affected by this change? How are they affected? What's in it for them? How will we involve them?
What skills and resources will we need as a result of this change? How will we develop them?
While you can't plan the whole change (because you don't know what will happen and you will need to respond flexibly), you can develop a clear route-map detailing where you are going and how you plan to get them there. This will be invaluable as you start to tell the story of the change to those involved and affected. Until you have your leaders fully on board, and influential people warmed them up so that they feel resourceful and able to handle the change (even if they don't like it), you'd be well advised not to move on to the next stage.
Transitioning from old to new
Once the scene is set, you can move into actually making the change. This is the quickest of the three stages of change. In this stage, you want to make sure everyone involved is clear about what the change means for them, and why it is happening. This is the phase where you make the change happen, developing the skills people need, putting in place the resources they rely on, and leaving them feeling motivated to work in the new ways.
In one business I supported, management put all of their effort into this stage. For a structural change that was being implemented, they invested a lot of effort in making sure people had the skills that they needed for their new roles, and that the resources were in place to make the new processes work. Unfortunately, they did not spend time up front talking to people about the need to change, or helping them feel positive about what the change meant for them. As a result, their new skills were not used, and the new processes were ignored, people simply continued in their old ways of working. Setting the scene is all important; don't train people until they have an appetite to use their new skills.
As you transition, you can ask yourself:
How effectively are leaders role modelling the change? What are we prioritising and signalling as important?
How visible is our progress? How much momentum do we have?
How are people responding to the change? What information and support will help them engage?
Do people have the skills and knowledge they need to make the change? If not, what more do we need to do?
How well are we managing our issues and risks? How can we involve those affected to help us?
Making change last
Once change is made, we often breathe a sigh of relief. The new process is in; the team are all in their new roles, thank goodness! Sadly, this is absolutely not the time to relax. Now is the time to really make sure that the improvement will still be there in a year, or 5 years time.
Changing behaviours and ways of working can take time. If you've ever tried to change your diet, or your exercise patterns you'll know it's easy for a while, then over time you start to revert back to your old ways. It's just the same in a job; it takes sustained effort to achieve sustained change.
Before you take focus away from a change, you need to know that it is clear who is responsible for what, and that they are carrying out these responsibilities whether you're watching or not. You want the change to become the 'new normal.'
Sustaining your changes
In making sure your change sticks, ask yourself:
How do we know if it's working? How are we monitoring it?
Who owns the new ways of working / the new structure? How committed are they to keeping it in place?
How do people feel about the change? Are they committed, or just complying in the hope it will revert in time? How can we build commitment?
How do our people processes support this change? For example, how will new people know the new ways of working? How have we built this into the way we manage performance? And the way we reward people?