Change is constant. With innovations in technology, changes in markets and methodologies, the corporate landscape is constantly evolving. It only makes sense that business adapt to these changes or get left behind.
Indeed, the business that adapt the quickest often carve out a competitive edge for themselves, while the ones mired in the inertia of the old ways, languish behind.
As Prof. Rosabeth M. Kanter of Harvard Business School noted, successful companies have “a culture that just keeps moving all the time”. Change is often arduous and beset by uncertainties and fear. It’s human nature to relish stability. Especially the sort of stability that saw a business through years of profit and efficiency. Why rock the boat when there’s been nothing but smooth sailing?
Of course the reality is, the tides have turned. The same stability that was once an asset is now a liability. Herein lies a fundamental component of change management – convincing employees (from senior executives all the way down) that change is necessary.
When it comes down to it, businesses don’t change, people do. There are many different change management implementation frameworks but in a nutshell, the following needs to take place.
The first step is a reality check; a brutally honest look at what needs to change, as well as communicating this to all levels of the organization. Because change needs to occur at the lowest individual level, all the way up.
Then comes implementation. This involves communicating, very clearly and to all levels of the organization, the overarching vision of the change. This is to ensure that there is no disconnect between the expectations of the employees and the anticipated change. If employees do not agree or fully grasp the logic behind the change, then there will be real problems in implementing such a change.
It is imperative that the change is owned by everyone, from the CEO and senior executives, all the way down the rung of the corporate ladder. Change is not something to be delegated, like project management. It is a process that everyone needs to embrace for it to be successful.
For example, in 2004 when Shell implemented DownstreamOne, it was abundantly clear that the change programme started and ended with its new group chairman.
Moreover, this example illustrates another necessary aspect of successful change management: the importance of good leadership, not to command that change just happens, but like all good leaders, to lead by example.
Embracing change will also put leaders in a unique position to empathize with employee concerns and provide the necessary support during the implementation process.
Of course there are other aspects that must be taken into consideration. Change management is not a one size fits all approach. A change management program must take into consideration the unique idiosyncrasies of a particular organization, adjusting the program to work with their particular strengths and weaknesses.
There must also be a clear road map to success, one that takes into account a realistic time frame and that also celebrates small wins on the road to change.
In many ways, change management is similar to a person ditching unhelpful old habits and replacing them with new, healthier ones, obviously on a much larger and more complicated scale. However, it is prescient to note the analogy as organizational change management often encounters similar obstacles to success.
Time, communication and measured changes, as well as ownership of change from all levels, is crucial to the goal of true change.