Taming the Organizational Change Management Beast

Change comes to everything, and business is no exception. In recent years, numerous studies have been done that examine what happens when businesses undertake some form of intentional change that affects the strategic position of the organization vis-à-vis its competition.

Academic research shows that statistically speaking successful organizational change occurs in only 30 per cent of all cases – with considerable variations depending on the type of project.

  • Re-engineering, process improvement – range from 20-50% success rate
  • Total Quality Management (TQM) Driven – only about 30% success rate
  • Mergers and Acquisitions – less than 30%
  • Restructure – <50% of 135 companies surveyed
  • Culture – 19-32% success rate

One thing that makes organizational change so difficult is that the impact of change tends to be overlooked until it’s too late.

The reason is simple. People equate project management (see I even used the word ‘project’ above) with organizational change management. Higher-ups get excited (or nervous) about new projects, so lots of energy goes into them.

Often left behind is how to deal with the human element. It’s like a team of people forcing their way through a jungle, not realizing that their stick has just lanced into one of the biggest lions around. And when that lion roars, watch out.

So project management helps ensure the budget, timelines, and teams are managed effectively. Change management is the process of guiding people and organizations through the change. And even if you have these two processes running well it means nothing if people don’t know about it or believe in it. For change to be successful it is key to change each individual.

The Elements of Change

The thing is, while change may be inevitable, no one likes it for a variety of reasons, as identified by a Swedish company with more than 25 years assisting with communication issues.

  • Habits and security is disturbed
  • Distraction from professional focus (i.e. customers)
  • Uncertainty and insecurity when faced with change
  • Worry that skills are not valued
  • Changes happens too frequently
  • Similar projects failed
  • Insufficient chance to influence things oneself
  • Need effective change processes and, most importantly, clear and effective communication

When Fire Breaks Out

The predictably unpredictable side to change

Managing expectations is one of the hallmarks of effective change management – and the last thing you want is a mass mutiny on your hands.

Humans adapt to change in their own time. Even when it is forced upon them – there is a huge variation in the ways and means people respond at the individual level. At the group level though – it’s another story.

Natural disasters are a type of forced change that hits people hard. Collectively people respond in a predictable fashion to such events like forest fires, earthquakes, tsunamis – the kind of life-changing events no one can avoid. The length of time between each phase varies – but generally people move through these stages:

1. Shock and denial 2. Anger / Blame seeking 3. Resolution

Within each of these phases there are variations as to the individual response, but the vast majority will react in this manner.

Why this matters for business

Change has two parts. There’s the change at hand, and then there is the reaction to the change. Both come with a price.

Installing a new collaborative portal will no doubt have many costs associated with it – from the actual cost of the software to the time and energy invested in installation. The equally important cost that is often lost in translation is adoption – in other words – encouraging people to use the new tool.

Businesses that choose to implement change without an organizational change management strategy can expect to see the same kinds of negative reactions most people have when confronted with things they are unprepared for.

To avoid this scenario, change needs to take place within the context of clear, direct, and sometimes even compassionate two-way conversations.

Communicating Change

Wash, Rinse, and Repeat

To assist people through the experience, there are steps that can be taken so that you don’t end up in an operational crisis, with money spent on something no one uses or use ineffectively due to fear and ignorance.

Each of these stages is critical, and the bigger the project the more likely it is to evolve over time.

You will need to go through each of these phases at each stage of the project while it makes its way through the organization. Above all – this is a process. The golden rule: Share information as promptly as possible. You’ll build trust when they hear it from you first, not the competition, and certainly not the media.

Phase One – Do your groundwork

There is not one size fits all type of communication. Change is uncomfortable and messy. Long standing habits are hard to break. Not only is the goal to change specific behaviors but changing employees’ attitude is also important

In this stage you’ll want to do the following:

    • Evaluate the risks and identify possible sources of resistance
    • Determine appropriate ways to enroll and engage employees, through a variety of vehicles including education, communication, or participation
    • Identify those who are known receivers of employee communication so you’re ahead of rumors and leaks

Phase Two – Clarify your message

Clearly understand what exactly is changing and why before any communication takes place.

    • Don’t get caught up in buzz phrases.
    • Link the message specifically to what behaviors need to change and tie it back to defined objectives
    • Be sure to include a call to action for individuals – this could be encouragement to attend training workshops, or it could be requesting user feedback by a certain date
    • Answer the why question – put the change into the context of the larger organization
      • Encourage employees to contribute and outline what is required in order to do so
      • Clear and specific goals reduce stress and encourage support. It’s our human nature to repeat behavior that is rewarded, so figure out a way to recognize and reward successful results
    • Communication is about quality not necessarily quantity, so make sure your message contains both substantial and significant information.

Phase Three – Find your cheerleaders

    1. Include key employees as active members on the project to help make key decisions and creating a communication process where employees’ questions and concerns can be considered
    2. Select approachable employees in sufficient authority who are committed to the idea and can chat easily with people for those water cooler and hallway conversations
    3. Empower these cheerleaders to bring any messages back for further consideration

Phase Four – Are we there yet?

Even after all areas of change seem to be implemented there is always the unexpected. But there things to keep in mind in terms of assessing the effectiveness.

    • Check that any organizational team meetings include a section on communications
      • Guard against the temptation that people are “bored” – if you’re hearing rumblings, there is something more you need to communicate
    • Keep your communication channels fluid. Not everyone reads emails. Not everyone is a visual learner. Create touch points. Be creative
    • Implement a process for feedback and assess whether you’re receiving any. If you’re not – then ask yourself what’s missing. Silence sometimes isn’t golden
      • use surveys
      • ask questions
      • provide room for expressions of concern

Phase Five – We’re done

Finally, it’s important to close off the conversation. In order for change to be considered complete, a number of things need to be communicated:

    • remind people of the goals and purpose of the project when it was initiated
    • advise people of what was learned through the change. If you want your employees to know you were listening, be honest and you’ll increase your trust quotient exponentially

These two vital pieces of communication will help you avoid the common malady of BOHICA (Bend Over, Here It Comes Again) that plagues many organizations. Without these tools, employees will be far more reluctant to embrace change the next time around, and all your hard efforts will have been wasted.

Above all else, successful organization change management requires commitment. There are no quick fixes in life – and companies are no different.

As my grandmother always used to say: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

– Software Delivered as Promised. No Surprises.

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Melissa Martin

Insight written by Melissa Martin

Quality Control Manager at Rand Group

Melissa Martin has spent 13 plus years focused on quality control management and the implementation of strategic initiatives. An expert at seeing organizational blind spots, she has helped companies improve their bottom line by streamlining business processes that eliminate revenue leakages and increase resource utilization.

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