Change is inevitable for any organization, and although some are more apprehensive than others, if managed well, change is an excellent thing. If you keep doing things the same for years down the road, you’re never going to reach your organization’s goals and deliver lifelong results for clients either.
Whether you’re implementing a new key account management tool, changing the way you manage accounts, or coordinating a move to a new office, how you manage the change and the expectations that come with it can determine its success. For many, they think that the art of change management is a one and done experience. They set a timetable, and once the change is implemented, it’s time to wrap it up and move onto the next project.
What if we told you that it isn’t a one and done process and instead required continuous effort on the manager’s part? If you want to transition effectively, here are a few tips to optimize your change management process at every step along the way.
Set Your Expectations Early
Before you can start really doing anything meaningful with the project, it’s crucial that you set expectations for not only yourself but your team as well. In addition, you need to maintain an open channel of communication with the team, so they have a chance to voice their expectations. More times than not, it can be the team’s unspoken expectations that can derail an entire project.
If they have the idea that they will always have the same exact role and nothing will ever change, they will feel completely blindsided once the changes go into effect. To maintain their trust and earn their support for the change, you need to communicate clearly what you expect of them and learn more about what they expect of you in the process. Many managers find that setting regular meetings with their team is a great use of time and they are able to communicate all of this information on a regular basis, staying up to date with how their team feels about the organization, its goals, and changes that are coming ahead.
You can even work to establish a culture of change such as changing seating or assignments periodically just so everyone becomes more comfortable and less apprehensive when big changes happen. However you choose to do it, you need to make sure that you’re setting the right expectations early, so the team is ready to go along with you.
Step 1: Knowledge Phase
This brings us to the initial step of the process, the knowledge phase. If you want your change management project to go over smoothly, it’s important that you have all of your key facts and don’t leave any stone unturned. Whether you’re researching online, reading stories from leaders in similar situations, or you’re asking your team about their experiences with similar projects, the more that you know going in, the better. The last thing that you want is to be caught off guard by an obstacle that was avoidable from the start. While any change is bound to be met with resistance either externally or internally, the more that you know going in, the better equipped you will be to tackle the challenge when it presents itself.
Whatever project you’re leading, the knowledge phase is one of the most important. Don’t just blindly rush into a change like it is a small thing that can be done in a day and instead dedicate a set of time to researching and gathering knowledge. Many managers make the mistake of either rushing through this step or skipping it altogether, and the results show. Even if you’ve completed a similar project in the past, you can always learn more before diving in, and it will be a much smoother process because of it.
Fast-forward to the end of the project, and you’ll still have more that you can learn and reflect on to ensure that you can take the knowledge into the next change also. So, to optimize this step, make sure that you’re using all of your available resources at the start so you can go into the project with all of the facts and the data you need to support the initiative.
Step 2: Process Creation
Next up, you need a plan. The Process Creation phase of the project is where you’ll plan every step along the way, delegate important tasks to team members that will do best and maximize their skills, and set a time table with wiggle room built-in, so you avoid falling behind. There are many ways to do this, and it’s recommended that you use a project management tool that sets clear objectives, deadlines, and accounts for any obstacles you know are either possible or inevitable.
It’s important to realize that this is not a one-size-fits-all change management plan and although you can work from a template you find online, you don’t want to follow another organization’s plan to a tee. Every company and project will be different, and every team will react to change differently depending on the culture and the expectations that have been set. Keep all of these factors in mind as you start to develop your process. If this is your first change management project, then you’ll likely feel a little bit lost, and that’s okay. Just move carefully and make sure that you’re crossing all of your t’s and dotting all of your I’s during this phase Optimize your process so it is efficient and lean, while still accounting for all other variables and you should be able to move through it with minimal downtime or disruption.
Step 3: Feedback
Throughout the process, you’ll want to touch base with the team and all other stakeholders to get an understanding of their thoughts and concerns with the process. Managers will often make the mistake of keeping essential people in the dark either for fear of criticism or because they want to surprise them and take all of the credit. Change management is a collaborative process and is that way even after the project is completed. You should continue to keep lines of communication open, so everyone involved has a say in what is happening throughout the process.
If your organization already fosters open communication, then you are already a step ahead of many embarking on a change management project. If you don’t, then this is the time to break down those barriers and establish that collaboration is key to the success of everyone involved in the project from the bottom to the top floor. It’s important to point out that not everyone will be on board with the process no matter how many pep talks you have and all of the planning you’ve done.
Underminers are bound to exist, and you can’t hold people’s natural reactions and attitudes to them without holding feedback meetings. If you suspect that some people aren’t entirely on board and never have been, rather than sitting back and hoping that they come along, you should meet with them and get a better understanding. While you don’t want someone afraid of change to derail the project altogether, you want to earn more about why they feel so against the process and what you can do to make it easier for them. It’s a give and take type of situation, and clear communication is vital.
If there’s something that you can explain or incorporate into the process that would ease their frustrations and fears, then you should go for it. If they can’t really describe why they are so against the change, then you need to put your foot down and let them know that it is happening with or without their approval, so if they can be a team player, they’ll help the entire team move forward with the change. This talk alone usually helps leaders dispel any fears and if not, at least they’ll know where you stand.
Step 4: Coaching
Finally, the coaching phase is near the end where most if not all of the changes have been implemented. At this point, you want to ensure that all team members know their role with the new system and provide them with the support they need to succeed using the new system. As the owner of the project, you’re the expert, and it’s you that will provide the team with information while you continue to gather feedback and make day-to-day changes and tweaks, so the program works for everyone.
As a leader, coaching should come naturally to you, but even the best leaders could use some coaching of their own. Continue optimizing the way that you communicate to team members about their importance in the change and determine how effective it was. Also offer them additional resources to help them pick up the new habits quicker, and provide advice and insight into how you see the new processes benefiting them so they can replicate those habits for even faster results.
This is where we throw the “one and done” concept out of the window. Even if you pull the entire project off without a hitch and conquer every obstacle, if you sit back and forget about all of the steps in your change management process, you’re bound to run into trouble in the future. Change management isn’t a one and done process because change, even in regards to the change management process itself, is inevitable.
You should continue to find new ways to optimize and improve the workflow and implementation of the new tool, product, or system. There are always enhancements out there if you’re looking for them and capitalizing on them can help to save the team time, effort, energy, and the organization money as well.
So, look back to step one, the Knowledge Phase and rinse and repeat. While this isn’t to suggest that you need to dedicate yourself to this one project and its enhancements full-time, you should continue every once in a while to do a check-up to see where everything stands and how everyone feels about it. Your team can prove to be the most comprehensive resource of optimization data, and they’ll be able to share with you the things that are and aren’t working. Create an environment where everyone is allowed to share their opinion, and you’ll have a change management program that fosters growth and improvement across the board.
Change is a constant thing and you’ll find that the best organizations in the world will embrace change with open arms daily. Creating a culture of change is the biggest takeaway for any organization. It all starts with leaders that will clearly communicate the benefits and the positive power of change to the rest of the team, with everyone lending a hand to develop this culture and implement these lessons.
Whichever process you follow to go about change management, many of the core principles still remain the same. Make sure that communication is held to a higher standard and set expectations early on. After that, continue to optimize your change management processes and find new ways to make your organization and team more efficient and productive through these changes.
How Kapta Can Help
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