No matter what industry your organization operates in, one thing everyone can agree on is that the only constant is change.
As cliche as it sounds, implementing changes really is the natural order of business for these reasons and more:
- New consumer needs or desires come to light
- Technology and services evolve, allowing companies to better provide for their customers in some way
- Consumers get accustomed to the latest technology and service, which becomes mainstream
Of course, evolution within an organization doesn’t just happen. Whether introducing new technology, restructuring your teams or revamping your customer-facing services altogether, implementing organizational changes must be undertaken strategically and intentionally to be successful.
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest challenges businesses face when implementing organizational change in the workplace and discuss how you can overcome these obstacles within your own company. Plus, get tips from business owners and executives who have successfully implemented change within their organizations.
5-Step Organizational Change Management Process
One popular employee-focused strategy for change management was developed 20 years ago by the founder of change management company Prosci, Inc., and organizational change author, Jeffrey Hiatt.
Hiatt’s ADKAR model is focused on encouraging individuals within a company to adopt and adjust to change, which can in turn lead to positive changes within the organization as a whole. Of companies polled, 51% indicated the model to be “extremely effective” at facilitating individual change.
Here’s a breakdown of the ADKAR change management model:
1. Awareness: Teams Must Be Informed of the Change
Make your employees understand why changes are necessary, including what issues brought about the need for change. Explain how the change will impact them.
Awareness requires clear and frequent communication. Think about it: If you don’t have open lines of communication throughout your organization, it’ll be near impossible to get everyone working toward a common goal.
Ensure the following:
- Both vertical (i.e., ground-level to C-suite) and horizontal (i.e., cross-departmental) communication is not just possible but thoroughly encouraged and promoted throughout your organization
- Communication is a 2-way street in all circumstances within your organization
- All members of your organization understand the importance of truly open and honest communication with one another
Reach out to your various departments to learn more about what they need to accomplish their assigned tasks efficiently. Once your employees understand the “whats,” “whys” and “hows” behind the organizational change, they’ll have a much better idea of what they’ll need from you to make it happen.
It’s important to instill the value of enhanced communication throughout your team because without a solid foundation based on open and honest communication, your organizational change initiatives will fall short.
2. Desire: Workers Must Want to Change
Once you’ve made employees aware of the need for change, get them on board with making it happen. You need their support.
Eric Bowie, owner and founder of Smart Money Bro, says he ensures employees buy into the change. He says he’s “ … used surveys, gripe sessions, strength identifiers, solicited input and maintained a non-judgemental open-door policy.”
You want to create a desire in your team that drives them to want to willingly help. Do this by designating change leaders who influence others to embrace the change. These individuals can also offer guidance and support.
It’s also important to effectively handle resistance, says Adam Garcia, CEO of The Stock Dork. He shares, “When coming up with a change plan, it’s important to prepare yourself [for] some resistance. Being open to resistance means you’re open [to] feedback and criticism, which helps with creating a stronger plan and managing change effectively, strategically.”
Also, be sure your workers are clear on how their on-the-job experience could be impacted and enhanced upon making the shift.
Make the need for change matter to them, so they have a vested interest in actively participating to ensure a successful transition to the new routines.
For instance, sales workers might not be fond of changing to a new software system. But if that software saves them time, that means they can focus on reaching more potential customers. In turn, that could lead to an increase in their bottom line. Now, you’ve got their attention.
Matt Weidle, business development manager of Buyer’s Guide, shares this best practice: “Resistance is inevitable in change management of any organization. But as leaders, you should always focus on cultivating a positive mindset among your employees.”
Weidle goes on to say, “Change management is beneficial not only for the organization but for the employees as well. It unlocks new opportunities for employees, such as promotions, possible salary increase, reskilling and new training programs that will be implemented along with the change.”
“By constantly reminding and focusing on the positive changes, employees will be more confident and be more open to change.”
3. Knowledge: Staff Needs to Learn New Processes
Ensure your employees know how they will fit into the new systems and processes, as well as possess the skills to get the job done.
Communicate what each employee’s and team’s specific tasks and goals for making the shift will be. If your team is unclear regarding what you need from them, they won’t know how to do what you need them to do to contribute to a successful change.
If the change requires a lot of training in new processes and systems, gradually educate your staff. This will avoid information overload, which could discourage employees from embracing the change.
Training could take the form of videos, mentoring, classroom instruction or online courses, among others.
4. Ability: Employees Must Be Confident in Their Skill Sets
In addition to book smarts, make sure your team has practical training. Gaining knowledge about change processes from a video is one thing, but there’s a certain depth that can only be achieved when people get their hands dirty. So be sure to offer hands-on training prior to launching the full change campaign.
Also, be sure your people and organization have the bandwidth not just to undertake the change in question but also to sustain any implemented changes made over time. Consider short-term goals and incremental stages of change.
Also, position change leaders as coaches; encourage them to gather feedback from employees about any transitional issues and concerns. Once you know what obstacles impact your team, you’re in a better position to address those issues that are hindering performance.
The Stock Dork’s Adam Garcia shares the importance of defining clear measures and suggests companies “ … pilot run a plan on certain parts of the organization and analyze the results.”
He goes on to say, “You can share the outcome of the test with other departments and employees to build a stronger case. This way, you will have the support of all employees and will lead to be much more effective in implementing change.”
5. Reinforcement: Change Must Be Continually Encouraged
It’s important to understand that organizational change doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it can’t successfully occur without a sufficient investment of time.
If you try to force organizational change onto your team, you not only run the risk of making multiple missteps, but you also risk alienating your employees and causing them to become resistant to change altogether.
It’s also essential to foster a growth mindset in your organization. Your team needs to understand that change and evolution within your organization isn’t something that should happen at specific periods in time. Instead, it should be happening in some way at all times.
Once your team truly understands the importance of ongoing, iterative improvement, they’ll be much better prepared to make any major changes that may be needed over time.
Other Organizational Change Strategies
In addition to ADKAR, the Kotter 8-Step Model is a popular top-down strategy for implementing organizational change.
Other organizational change management models used in business include these:
- McKinsey’s 7-S Model: Fosters organization-wide change
- Lewin Model: Helps with execution of large-scale changes
- Kubler-Ross Model: Good for understanding the different stages of emotions employees adjusting to change experience
Depending on your organizational needs, you may even consider creating a hybrid change management strategy based on more than 1 proven model.
Organizational Change Management Strategies
When it’s time for implementing change in your organization, consider these tips to improve upon whichever change management model you choose.
Consider Stakeholder Needs and Perceptions
Ansh Gupta, CEO at BuySellEmpire, offers this tip: “Before considering making any changes in the business and executing a change management plan, be sure to take into account the needs of all stakeholders involved.”
Gupta shares, “The perspective of employees, managers, customers and partners is important to take note of before implementing an overall strategy.”
“When you think about how a certain change will impact everyone involved in the business, there are more chances of engagement and a successful, effective plan coming about,” Gupta says.
Explain Goals and Reasoning
From the onset of the implemented change in question, you’ll need to have clearly defined specific and realistic goals for undertaking the initiative as well as the rationale behind these goals.
Without a clear plan of attack — complete with specific rationale and milestones in mind — your team won’t have a clear idea of where they should be headed when making an organizational change.
Lead by Example
Susan Norton, senior director of human resources at LiveCareer, shares the importance of leading by example but says, “Unfortunately, many leaders still practice the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ philosophy. They want to see the results but forget to apply their new rules to their daily work.”
Norton goes on to say: “As a leader, your role is to inspire your staff and motivate them to go the extra mile to achieve their goals. However, your employees need to see your effort and commitment to become a part of the change.”
Recognize When You’re Wrong
Not every change is a successful one, as Brack Nelson, marketing manager of search engine optimization company Incrementors, notes. He offers the following advice: “Being right might seem like a big win, but this victory can have far-reaching consequences if it affects the attitude or morale of other team members.”
He goes on to say, “Your need to be right can be a communication barrier among your project team and can end up alienating others to the extent that they stop communicating altogether. This type of breakdown in communication can lead to a less-than-optimal level.”
“You cannot be successful in any projects with a team of one. The ego must be outside of the door when team members are communicating.”
When things aren’t going right, employees often hear about it. But when things go according to plan (or even better), it’s time to bring out the party horns and confetti.
Adam Rowles, CEO of Inbound Marketing Agency, shares the importance of making your team feel valued. One way you can do that is by acknowledging the wins.
“Do not forget to celebrate the small successes,” Rowles says. “These celebrations hinge the team together.”
Keys to Successful Change Management in Your Organization
When the topic of organizational change pops up, some employees will embrace the idea of change, while others will resist. What’s more, sometimes, planned organizational changes just don’t work out as anticipated.
That said, if you want your company’s change rollout to succeed, you’ll need to put in a little effort. You can either be the company that fails to optimize its change initiatives, or you can be the company that faces challenges head-on and understands what you need to do to get your employees onboard.