Just as with any business decision that affects the bottom line, there are various reasons that a company will decide to employ a change management strategy. Every business, no matter the size or industry, faces both internal and external pressures that influence short-term and long-term strategies.
External pressures may include shifting economic conditions, governmental or regulatory fluctuations, cultural changes, or technological developments that render particular products and services obsolete. Internal pressures may include a new management team, the development of a product that disrupts the overall market, or the need to expand or downsize.
In theory, the change may be the best thing to ever happen to a company, but if it lacks the support of those tasked with putting it in place, the idea becomes irrelevant. For the best possible outcome, you must account for the unpredictability of human influence and employ an effective change management strategy.
1. Determine and communicate the mission, vision, and objectives.
In order to justify a change in the company, you need to be able to explain why the change is being made. In order to do that, the management team must establish what the end goal is and how that will be achieved. You must establish a clear-cut plan, but more importantly, you must determine how to clearly communicate that plan across the organization.
The more well-defined leadership’s vision for the future, the better it can be communicated, and the stronger the chance that it will succeed. A variety of stumbling blocks can detract from your success, including a lack of support and training, failure to coordinate, and failure to involve everyone being affected. Keep these factors in mind when designing a communications plan.
2. Address the systematic, human change.
Recognize that much of the success (or failure) of a change within an organization is dependent upon people. Though most people are naturally resistant to change and uncertain of how it will affect their own lives, this fear can be overcome with clear communication from management. Begin by showing why the change is necessary. Explain that it will increase sales, lead to transformative innovation, or enhance the international influence of the company.
Once the plan has been articulated, engage a management team that will be able to enact the change on all levels of their teams. By fostering a positive environment and providing management support, you can increase the chances that the change will be successful.
3. Set metrics and expectations in advance.
Set clear, specific goals before the company begins to implement the change. This paves the way for a tangible moment when a particular achievement can be labeled a success. For example, if the long-term goal is to make the company more profitable, the goals might be a 20 percent increase in sales and a 10 percent increase in staff.
Once those goals are articulated, the company can use them as a litmus test to measure progress. Depending on the scale of the change, the goals may be more complex or simplistic, but the importance of establishing an end game cannot be underestimated.
4. Address the culture explicitly.
Don’t underestimate how important it is to address how the change will affect company culture. A company’s culture can be based on its history, mission statement, or family values, and it defines much of what an employee (and world) thinks of a business.
Clearly communicate the ideals for the company culture and ensure that management is working to promote these ideals in ways that support the new change. This is particularly important if the big change involves mergers, layoffs, or significant personnel changes. Reestablish or redefine the culture as needed to give the organization a solid base.
5. Build commitment.
Change will fail without ongoing commitment. You must build enough commitment so that the change will survive the unexpected problems along the way. There will always be those who disagree with the plan or think it’s a bad idea, but most employees and shareholders can be swayed by clear communication that outlines goals and specific metrics. The change cannot succeed through a sheer force of will by those who seek to enact it — it must be supported on every level of the organization.
Change is difficult. It doesn’t matter how large or small the organization or how radical or mundane the change. Each company is different, but there are fundamental steps that must be taken at any organization in order for progress to be made. Be explicit in articulating the plan and how it will affect employees, and be prepared to adjust as time passes and problems arise. Transparency and dedication will allow the change to succeed and the company to succeed along with it.
About the author: Rebecca Lindegren is the community relations manager for MBA@UNC, an online Executive MBA program specializing in leadership. In addition to higher ed, she is passionate about content and brand marketing, cycling and skiing. Follow her on twitter.