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:
- A new need or desire (on the part of the consumer) comes to light
- Technology and services evolve, allowing companies to better provide for their customers in some way
- Consumers get accustomed to the new technology and service, which becomes mainstream
- Another new consumer need comes to light
…and the cycle continues.
That is, the cycle continues if everything goes smoothly. Needless to say, if a company’s services fail to evolve with the changing needs of the customer, they won’t truly be able to get past “phase two” of the above continuum. In turn, said company is going to quickly fall far behind their competition.
Of course, evolution within an organization doesn’t just “happen” out of nowhere. Whether introducing new technology, restructuring your teams or completely revamping your customer-facing services altogether, implementing changes in an organization must be undertaken strategically and intentionally to be successful.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the three biggest challenges businesses face when implementing organizational change in the workplace, and discuss how you can overcome these obstacles within your own company.
Let’s dive in.
How to Implement Change in the Workplace
Before we dive in, let’s address the elephant in the room, here:
Anytime the topic of organizational change pops up, at least one glass-half-empty pessimist will parrot the statistic that says 70% of organizational change initiatives fall flat on their face. As Nick Tasler of Harvard Business Review points out, the truth behind this statistic is, at best, quite murky.
But Tasler also points out something much more important:
Even if that statement were true, the takeaway isn’t “Your organizational change initiatives only have a 30% chance of succeeding.” The takeaway is that only 30% of companies put in the effort needed to succeed when initiating some kind of organizational change.
The point is, you can either be part of the 70% that fails to optimize their change initiatives, or you can be a part of the 30% that knows what making such changes truly entails—and faces these challenges head on.
With that in mind, let’s now dive into the three key principles of implementing changes within your organization.
Make Communication Your Number One Priority
In 2016, Robert Half Management Resources conducted a study on the main challenges faced by businesses undergoing organizational change.
Across the board, the largest and most detrimental obstacles the responding companies faced revolved around a lack of communication. Going along with this, 65 percent of respondents agreed that clear and frequent communication was the most important part of “leading (a) company or team through a major change.”
Now, given that the next section will be on the importance of setting clear goals and rationale for your change initiatives, it may seem a bit counterintuitive to talk about communication beforehand. Our reason for doing so, though, is that your ability to create these goals in the first place relies on your team’s ability to communicate with one another.
(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.)
So, above all else, you need to ensure that:
- 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 two-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
When it comes to enabling and encouraging communication throughout your organization, there are two key factors at play:
- Company culture
In terms of company culture, it’s essential that you instill the value of enhanced communication throughout your team members. Moreover, this value must be framed in a way that means something to your team members. So, while the bottom line is that better communication leads to more efficiency overall, you’ll need to drill down exactly how each of your departments will benefit from the improvements being made.
Once your team is on board with this enhanced focus on communication, you need to make sure that doing so is logistically possible for everyone involved. This may actually necessitate a sort of “meta-organizational change,” in that you may need to introduce new technology, or possibly restructure your organization’s processes to increase communication.
And that’s fine; it’s actually the point: Communication is both the catalyst and the fuel of change within your organization. Without a solid foundation based on open and honest communication, your organizational change initiatives simply cannot succeed.
Set Clear Goals and Rationale
The study we mentioned above also uncovered data showing that many companies fall short in terms of setting identifiable and attainable goals.
That is, 16 percent said their most pressing issue lies in managing expectations revolving around an organizational change, while 9 percent of respondents said their biggest obstacle is in outlining their goals. All in all, a full 25 percent of companies surveyed could stand to optimize their approach to change in the workplace in some way.
Going along with this, Statista found that 62 percent of companies believe effective identification, measurement and communication of the benefits of a given change initiative are essential to the success of said initiative.
So, from the onset of the implemented change in question, you’ll need to have clearly defined:
- Your specific (and realistic) goals for undertaking the initiative
- The rationale behind these goals
- What making the change will entail for your organization
While you do want to approach these topics from the perspective of your organization as an entity, you also want to do so from the point of view of your various team members and departments, as well. In turn, you’ll be better able to communicate to them what their specific tasks and goals for making the shift will be—and can also explain how their on-the-job experience will be impacted and enhanced upon making the shift.
It’s worth noting that this is also the time to reach out to your various departments to learn more about what they need to accomplish their assigned tasks efficiently. Because your employees will now 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.
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. With each team heading in a different direction, they’re liable to pull your change initiative apart completely.
But, with a clear goal in mind—and a clear pathway in front of you—your team can be on its way to a successful organizational change.
Stay the Course—and Keep Forging Ahead
A 2014 study by McKinsey found that “good” implementers of organizational change experience two times the financial benefits as “poor” implementers over a two-year span.
Unfortunately, that same study also found that less than 50 percent of all companies see any kind of sustained results from implemented changes over a five-year period.
There are a few key messages to take from all this:
First of all, it’s important to know and understand that organizational change doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it can’t successfully occur without a sufficient investment of time involved—and you shouldn’t try to make it happen, either. In trying 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.
Secondly, you need to be sure your organization has the bandwidth not just to undertake the change in question, but to sustain any implemented changes made over time, as well. For example, if you’ve decided to invest in a new piece of emergent technology, you’ll need to account for any additional investment (be them monetary or labor-related) that will be required over time, such as when training new employees or scaling up to a higher tier of service. As we mentioned above, failure to anticipate these added changes can compile over time, causing more than half of organizational change efforts to fall apart at the five-year mark.
Finally, it’s essential that you foster a growth mindset among your organization, in which change isn’t just the only constant—it’s the only way to operate. Your team needs to understand that change and evolution within your organization isn’t something that should happen at specific periods in time; it should be happening in some way at all times.
Once your team truly understands the importance of ongoing, iterative improvement on a daily basis, they’ll be much better prepared to make any major changes that may be needed over time.