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How often have you heard that the only thing constant is change? It really is true, yet most people seem to struggle with change. We have all heard that the natural tendency for most people is to resist change, and that seems to be the case. But, why? The obvious answer is that people generally don't like uncertainty or the unknown. Even when something is touted as an improvement, people still have the attitude of "what's in it for me?" Whether you're trying to implement a new reliability program or change the brand of pens you use at the office, you will inevitably run into resistance.
So, how do you ensure that you successfully manage change? Most people try to manage it through a top-down approach, but that doesn't guarantee success. It just means you've got one of the boxes checked off. Let me offer some general guidelines to successful change management that I've learned through my career.
Change management is not unlike many aspects of project management. It's important to have a system and process in place to ensure you have all your bases covered.
1) Assemble your team: Before any change can be managed, it's critical to identify a change management team. This team should have a strong leader, along with various subject matter experts from critical areas. Your team should also have various levels of staff, not just management.
2) Define why you need the change and its expected outcome: Most people initiate change without really analyzing why it's needed and what the expected outcome is, including the benefits to those impacted by the change. This is why you get the "flavor of the month" mentality and why people are immediately suspicious of proposed changes. Change is often doomed from the start because those trying to initiate it don't take sufficient time to analyze and communicate the need and outline what results are expected. They make the mistake of assuming that it should all be obvious.
3) Develop a plan: In order to develop a comprehensive plan, you need to consider how the change will impact your organization. How does this "new way" align with your corporate culture and mission? Does it require new skills and training? Does it require new job descriptions or an organizational change? How does it affect your products or services? What do those who will be directly impacted think about the change? How will you respond to various reactions from those impacted? How will you monitor progress and how will you deal with contingencies? Change management has little chance for success without detailed plans that address these types of issues.
4) Implement the plan: Once you develop a detailed plan, put the plan into action. Report on the progress to all those impacted, and ensure you are addressing issues in a timely manner. Ask for input from everyone impacted by the change and consider them appropriately. And if necessary, adjust your plan. Don't let your ego get in the way. It's not unusual for plans to be modified along the way.
5) Maintain the change: Once you've successfully implemented the change you desired, it's critical that you reinforce and maintain it. Ensure that you continually report on the positive results and reward those involved in the process.
6) Enact a post-change review: To bring proper closure to a change process and ensure continuous improvement, it's important to assess your results. It's important to identify the differences between what you planned for and what you actually did. Document what you did well and what you missed. Seek input from those impacted and consider how you will apply those lessons in future plans. As stated before, change is constant, and it will be important to apply those lessons, whether you need to improve this change or manage a completely different one.
If you are engaged in a change management process now, identify where you are in this process and ask yourself whether or not you've completed the prior steps and if you are prepared for the next steps.
Finally, the key to successful change management is good, meaningful communication. As a teacher once told me, "The problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished." So, make sure there is plenty of it. Just when you think you've communicated enough, communicate some more.