Change is really hard.
But research shows some degree of change management—even poor change management—can drastically improve your chances for success.
Before you embark on your next major organizational change, take these six steps to improve your chances of success.
1. Create a Vision and Plan for Change
People will adapt to change if you can show them you have a compelling vision of what the future will look like. “The biggest mistake that we often see people make when they’re adopting new technologies is not presenting a compelling vision,” says Kassia Gandhi, academic affairs director at D2L.
Consider your vision for a brighter future as your point of origin. It’s the idea you’re going to keep coming back to when the implementation process feels challenging. That’s why it’s important to construct your vision before you start preparing your organization for change. If you take the time to articulate your goals to yourself, you will be better prepared to answer staff questions in an inspiring way.
As you start to create your plan, consider:
- What strategic objectives will this change help the organization achieve?
- What does success look like?
- Which metrics will you use?
- Who will be in charge of the implementation process?
- What specific policies and procedures will be followed?
- What is not included in the project’s scope?
While having a strategy is vital, the plan should also account for any unknowns or potential obstacles that can appear during the implementation process and contingencies for overcoming obstacles.
2. Prepare Your Organization for Change
To successfully pursue and implement change, your organization must be prepared both logistically and culturally. Before giving your staff a sense of the required logistics, do the cultural groundwork so that your staff feel positive about change.
During the planning stages, help your employees understand the need for change by encouraging them to recognize the pain points you wish the change to solve. If you can excite them, they will become your change catalysts, helping persuade any naysayers they encounter, which will help reduce resistance during the next step.
While you may expect people to find your reasons for improvement compelling—for example, using a new learning management system to improve training and professional development—they won’t be able to fully conceptualize your plan until they know how it will affect them personally.
“That doesn’t mean you don’t need a strong vision for change,” says Gandhi. “You just need to make sure you’re addressing staff’s immediate concerns and how it impacts them, because otherwise they won’t be able to absorb your vision.”
Once your stakeholders’ individual questions get answered (e.g., How will this impact me?), they will move through the change adoption process and start considering the impact overall (e.g., How can we do it better together?).
3. Implement the Changes
Once the plan is in place and people are on board, it’s time to make it happen. This stage shifts gears, pushing the plan from the theoretical to the real. Focus on motivating your teams to take the essential actions necessary while also acknowledging any immediate successes.
It’s important that your planning was done right to ensure things go off without a hitch. Ideally, the actual implementation will happen during a slower time for the business: You don’t want to be rolling out a new accounting software right as your business would normally be wrapping up its year-end.
4. Give Staff the Support They Need
You can group the way people approach change into five main segments on a bell curve, ranging from most willing to embrace change to most reluctant:
- Innovators and Early Adopters: “New things are good because they are new.”
- Early Majority: “New is good if my friend thinks it’s good.”
- Late Majority: “New is suspicious and to be doubted.”
- Laggards: “New is bad and not to be trusted.”
Based on this model, you can create enablement and communication plans tailored not only to people’s specific roles but also to their adoption type (early adopters, early majority and late majority) because the needs of each group are different.
After figuring out who your early adopters are, you can enable the people who are getting the most out of the change early on to put on demonstrations for their colleagues. Employees who are not yet enthusiastic about the change can then see what the possibilities are, which can motivate or inspire them.
5. Embed Changes Within Your Organization’s Culture
When a change initiative is over, staff can slip into the old way of doing things. It’s crucial you don’t let that happen. If you can embed the changes into the workings of your organization, this will help prevent backsliding.
For example, if you stop sending hard copies of reports and transition to an online tool, tie that piece of administration into something your employees already do, like quarterly reporting. If you stack a change on top of well-formed habits, it’s more likely to stick.
6. Review Progress and Analyze Results
A change initiative’s completion doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a success. By doing analyses and evaluations, leaders can learn whether a change endeavor was successful, unsuccessful or a mix of both. Additionally, these may provide insightful information and lessons that can be used in future change initiatives.
Every organization will require a unique approach to change, depending on how big the change will be, how quickly you want to move the change forward, and the kind of infrastructure and capacity you already have to facilitate the change.
While research into change management can help guide you, remember that no one outside your organization understands the business in the same detail as you do. Your knowledge of the kind of support your staff might need and what sort of vision they will respond to, among other things, are invaluable to the process.
Overall, Gandhi asks leaders to be patient: “Allow time; do not rush your results.” That doesn’t mean you don’t rush the change itself—just remember that making deep, fundamental change can take years, even though you can produce positive results from day one.
Chase Banger is a Content Marketing Specialist at D2L. An award-winning journalist and former communications specialist, he has a passion for helping people through education.
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