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How to Ensure Successful Change Through Effective Management

Many changes fail, even though brilliantly orchestrated, because people still have concerns - will they be negatively impacted financially or will their positive work relationships become fractured?

Managers need to identify these concerns and, where possible, work to eradicate or lessen them. This can be done in the following ways:

Recognizing concerns

Failure to pay constant attention to managing concerns, before the change is fully anchored in the workplace, can result in lost momentum or erosion of the benefits of the change.

If the personal concerns of committed individuals are ignored and their commitment is lost, the negative impact of individuals withdrawing their support, either openly or covertly, can be highly damaging to the implementation.

Managers need to identify behaviour that indicates a lack of commitment or opposition to the change, discuss these behaviours with the individual/s concerned and address issues that may be worrying organizational members, such as: job security; financial impact; work relationships; levels of responsibility and learning and development needs.

Managers thus need to respond effectively and in a timely manner to the personal concerns and reactions of members to proposed change/s, in order to reduce anxiety and uncertainty.

Managing uncertainty

Change can affect employees’ wellbeing at work. It can create anxiety and stress in people, even for those managing and leading change.

One source of stress for individuals during change is uncertainty. Uncertainty, or lack of knowledge or unpredictability of circumstances, can lead to feelings of lack of control, which in turn can lead to stress.

During change, there can be uncertainty about various issues such as job security, workload demands or functions and reporting structures. The challenge for managers is to convince organizational members that the change will have benefits for them and their team.

While leaders will have the big picture in mind and think of the overall organizational context, employees are likely to be more focused on the relevance and impact of change on their personal circumstances, such as whether it will affect their job role, responsibilities and/or rewards.

In order to appreciate and understand its relevance, employees should ideally be involved at the start of any change process. Timely and accurate information, as well as participation in change-related decision-making, can help to reduce uncertainty and enhance employees’ sense of control over their work circumstances.

Being responsive to the impact of change on people

Being responsive is about acknowledging and dealing with the impact of change on people. This involves understanding and responding to their emotional journey by considering questions such as:

  • How are people reacting to the change/s and the implications of it/them?
  • What do they feel they are losing and what might they gain?
  • How clear is it to them what will change and when?
  • How and when will they stop what they used to do and start what they are going to do?
  • How will they deal with the ambiguity in transition?
  • How can they be supported until change becomes business as usual?

Asking such questions can help managers to understand the pitential impact of change on individuals and the support they will need.

Ensuring readiness for change

To prepare for change, managers need to assess the readiness of their employees to change to new ways of working and behaving.

The state of an individual’s readiness can range from being excited about and open to the change, to being fearful or anxious about it and opposed to giving up their current ways of working.

The likelihood of a manager being able to implement and manage change successfully without people being change-ready is arguably like a toddler trying to walk before they are able to crawl; which is possible for some but impossible for most. In other words, if employees aren't change-ready then failure may be perceived as the only predictable outcome of a transformation.

Assessing change readiness can help managers in identifying the key issues that they need to address in planning and implementing change. It also allows activities to be targeted where they are most needed, and resources and time to be allocated and managed effectively.

To conduct a readiness assessment there are several approaches that managers can use singly, in concert, or in multiple combinations. Three of these approaches are briefly outlined here:

  1. The first approach to assessing readiness involves observing employees’ reactions to proposed change/s. Such observation is intended to be relatively unobtrusive and can involve being attentive to rumours, increases in absence or turnover, or any unusual behaviour that might be associated with denial or resistance to change.
  2. A second approach involves directly asking for feedback from employees in one-to-one meetings or in focus groups, with managers listening to views and feelings about the change.
  3. A third, more formal approach, is to conduct a survey that can help to provide anonymous feedback about concerns, issues, ideas and suggestions.

Whichever approach is used, it is important that feedback is gathered from various levels within the organisation. This will help managers to diagnose and assess levels of readiness and then to identify ways to improve readiness by involving the appropriate people – at every level – who will be affected by the change and responding to any concerns about the impact of more change.

Creating ownership of change

Managers need to ensure that employees, as well as they themselves, feel a strong sense of personal ownership of change. That way, they will put far more effort into making it a success.

People need to own the change, that is, to take personal responsibility for those aspects of the change that they can control or influence. Ownership is often best created by involving people in identifying problems and then crafting solutions to them. It is reinforced by incentives and rewards. These can be tangible (for example, financial compensation) or psychological (such as camaraderie and a sense of shared achievement).

It is critical that there are processes that help people to build the commitment and capability to own the change. If this does not happen, it is very probable that the change will either be ignored by the key employees impacted or else there will be minimal engagement with it.

Managers, therefore, need to focus on recognizing and understanding the concerns and uncertainty caused by potential change and be responsive to the impact of change particularly by identifying the readiness and ownership of change amongst relevant individuals and teams.

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