In the world of business, one of the only certainties is the fact that change is inevitable. For organizations to grow and evolve, they must be open to continuous improvement and change, as this is the only way of properly reacting to shifting market dynamics and maintaining competitive advantages.
However, the process of change can pose its own challenges. No matter what the circumstances may be, any significant business transformation will require comprehensive planning and forethought, as well as understanding and support from the whole organization, as every team member needs to be pulling in the same direction (True North) for changes to be implemented successfully and sustainably.
As such, any business that is seeking to implement change will need to consider the steps required to succeed and work through them methodically to deliver the best possible outcome.
A Five-Step Approach to Implementing Change
Change may be introduced within an organization under a wide variety of circumstances. In some cases, it will be to push forward proactive transformation and embrace greater efficiency, new business opportunities, a streamlined structure, or the possibility of a merger or acquisition; in other cases, it will be an essential step to turn a failing business model around or to rectify long-standing weaknesses that have held the organization back.
No matter what the background of the transformation may be, the foundational principles of change management remain largely the same. If your business is looking to make a significant change in the way it operates, the following steps should be followed:
1. Identify the Necessary Change and Assess Its Impact
To make sure you are implementing the right change, you will need to holistically review and analyze your organization’s starting position, which will help you fully understand the root causes of your current challenges and the steps required to minimize or mitigate those issues.
Once the correct change has been identified, you will need to perform an impact assessment to see how it affects your business model, service delivery, and/or workforce A key aspect of this is understanding the impact of the change on the pathway or value stream, from an internal and external customer perspective, assessing where the benefit will be derived and what support will be required to achieve a successful transformation.
2. Develop a Plan for Change
With this information in hand, you will be able to develop a comprehensive plan of action. This should not only detail what changes you intend to make, but also how these will be achieved, what the transitional phases of the change will look like, and which sections of the business may need additional support during this transition.
The plan should include clear milestones and metrics that will be used to assess the progress of the implementation and should identify and proactively address any foreseeable obstacles or delays to progress.
3. Bring Your Employees on Board
Change management cannot succeed without the complete buy-in of employees at every level of the organization, as they will ultimately be the ones responsible for implementing it. This will require communicating the purpose of the changes to the team, explaining your goals, clearly outlining who will be responsible for taking action, how this will translate into measurable outcomes, and empowering the team to facilitate the requisite change.
It is important for this process to be a two-way conversation – you must be open to hearing the feedback and ideas of your employees, and ensure that everyone within the company feels part of the decision-making process. In doing so, you will be able to foster a culture of change across the entire organization, securing the buy-in of individuals and teams and ensuring they can proactively drive the improvements you are seeking to achieve.
4. Implement the Change
Once these steps have been taken, it will be time to implement the change itself. This should be carried out in structured stages, according to the plan you have developed, to ensure that the work is prioritized correctly without the team becoming overwhelmed, and to avoid the risk of excessive disruption to your day-to-day service delivery.
In many cases, it may be useful or even essential to carry out a pilot program first, or else to trial the change on a smaller scale prior to the company-wide rollout. This will give you an opportunity to stress-test the plans in real-world scenarios, gather crucial feedback, and improve the process before moving ahead with the full implementation.
5. Monitor and Evaluate the Impact of the Change
Business transformation processes need to be monitored closely to make sure they are delivering the desired results, and that the new process is being implemented correctly. This monitoring should be most intensive during the earliest stages of the implementation, as this will provide the opportunity for any clear problems or unexpected outcomes to be identified and addressed as soon as possible.
Even after the initial launch phase, you should continue to monitor the ongoing impact of your change program, measuring it against your predetermined markers of success and assessing whether your goals have been met. This information will form the basis of any future improvement projects you decide to undertake.
Common Obstacles to Change (And How to Address Them)
As with any aspect of business, even the best-planned change management process may not always go exactly to plan. When this happens, it is important to identify the warning signs as early as possible and take steps to overcome the problems.
Here are some of the most common obstacles organizations face in their change management processes:
Lack of executive-level support
Successful change requires strong support at an executive/senior management level throughout the process. Often, top-level business leaders do not understand their role in the change management process, which can lead to inconsistent communication, low engagement, dwindling support, as well as insufficient budget and resources being allocated to the project.
Employee resistance to change
If staff does not buy into the change process or understand how it will benefit them, it can lead to resistance and resentment over the perceived disruption to their familiar routines. This will cause lower morale, prevent effective adoption of new methods, and stall the momentum of the project.
Suppose your initial change management plan was insufficiently clear. In that case, team members may become confused about the scope of their new responsibilities, the intended timeline, and how their activities are supposed to align with those of other teams. This confusion may also result in incorrect information about the change process being passed along to colleagues, customers, and other stakeholders.
A lack of visibility
clear oversight of your project’s process is essential for ensuring that everything is on track. This will be impossible without proper monitoring of the right metrics through a centralized system that everyone can understand, or without checking in regularly with key team members to ensure that progress is being made.
Each of these disparate problems shares the same fundamental solution: strong, consistent and clear communication at every stage of the change process. Businesses that are implementing change must ensure that every relevant stakeholder feels empowered and engaged from the very start of the project, with a clear understanding of their responsibilities and the ways in which their work will directly benefit the organization.
This level of close communication needs to be maintained throughout the business transformation process, ensuring that everyone remains on the same page as the project progresses, and are sharing their feedback and learnings to make sure that the key goals and milestones are being achieved and return on investment measured.
Not only will this help to guarantee the success of the change management process, but it will help to foster a more collaborative and well-coordinated business culture, laying a strong foundation for future continuous improvement efforts.
Other Factors to Consider
These are the main principles to consider when implementing a change management plan and will form a strong foundation for your project planning. However, as with any aspect of business, there may be other factors specific to your circumstances to consider that could affect your approach.
Here are some of the other questions that may be worth considering:
- Does your leadership team have the skills and knowledge necessary to coordinate this change management process, or would bringing in interim managers with business transformation expertise be a helpful step?
- Have you established clear processes and points of contact for your staff to express their ideas, feedback, and concerns about your planned changes throughout the implementation process?
- Do you have the capability to adjust these plans reactively according to the feedback you receive, or based on any new learnings that emerge during the process?
- Does your organization have the necessary bandwidth and internal resources to manage all aspects of the change management process to a sufficient standard, while maintaining the standards of its core operations? Or will it be beneficial to work with a dedicated business improvement agency to facilitate this process?
Naturally, every change management process will look different depending on the specific needs and objectives of the company, and the circumstances in which they are operating. However, by sticking to these core best practice principles, they will be able to maximize their chances of smoothly implementing change that delivers lasting benefits.
Ian Chambers is CEO of Linea, a change management and business improvement agency founded in 2004. Ian is a business improvement specialist with more than 20 years of experience leading complex operational and financial turnaround, transformation, and continuous improvement programmes for organisations of all sizes.