In order to bring you the most accurate and useful information possible, Employee Selection and Development, Inc. will be issuing PRACTICAL RESEARCH REPORTS quarterly. Its purpose is to give you practical and useful information on hiring, motivating, and managing employees. Should you have any questions or want further elaboration, please contact us by email or call 800-947-5678.

Bert Zinkand
Director

PRACTICAL RESEARCH REPORT #21

Management Competency - Championing Change

Change is an inevitable part of the modern business environment. Organizations, and the people within them, must constantly re-invent themselves to remain competitive. As a result, today’s leaders must do more than manage the status quo; leaders must be champions of the change process. But becoming an effective change agent is not easy. While change may be inevitable, the success of change initiatives is not. The skills and techniques of successful change facilitation are complex and, thus, beyond the scope of this report. The following broad suggestions will get you started on the path to becoming a champion of positive change in your organization. The additional recommended resources are more comprehensive.

Choose Your Battles Carefully

Choose your change initiatives carefully and thoughtfully. Even the most change-oriented people have limits on their ability to adapt. When inundated with change messages, there is a risk that people will begin to view each new change initiative as the latest fad likely to be soon replaced by a different fad. In these circumstances many people, especially the most resistant to change, will ignore a new initiative hoping that it will eventually go away or be replaced by something they like better. How do you decide which change initiatives to champion Consider the following:

  • Remember that the change must have both real value and perceived value to the people affected. As you evaluate your change initiatives, ask yourself what real, tangible value will be created. Then ask yourself how others will perceive the value you see. Will the value be obvious to them or will it be difficult to convince them
  • Link change to broader business goals. Make sure you have a clear business strategy and that the proposed initiative is well aligned with this strategy. If you cannot clearly align an initiative with critical aspects of business strategy, it may not merit consideration.
  • Efforts to change consume precious business resources (time, money and energy). Is the expected result worth the cost If there several possible initiatives, which is likely to produce the most valuable result for the least cost

Lay the Groundwork

Plant the Seeds of Change

Change has become a fact of life in today’s business environment. Change leaders must foster a working environment that prepares people to accept and embrace change. Set the tone by continuously engaging everyone in discussions concerning the changes that have occurred in the market, industry, technology, competitors and the customer in the past five years. Challenge them to anticipate future changes and how these changes will affect their business areas or direct role. Encourage them to take personal responsibility for proactively adapting to changing needs and expectations.

Change, by its nature, tesnds to create disorganization and turmoil. Careful planning beforehand can reduce much of this turmoil and prevent resistance to change.

Consider the Culture

Every organization has a collective personality or culture. Carefully consider the culture of your organization before planning the introduction of your initiative.

  • Is it a fast-paced, innovative culture Is it steady and consistent How is power and influence distributed in the organization In general, how open are people to change
  • What behaviors are rewarded in the organization What behaviors are discouraged
  • What other change initiatives have been implemented in the past Talk to those who were involved. What went right What went wrong What barriers did they face
  • Can the organization adopt a radical change or would a series of incremental steps to the same objective be better accepted

Target Key Influencers

Change is inherently about changing the behavior of people in your organization. As you think about your campaign, think about the people involved. Enlist the aid of key influence leaders in the organization – people whom others respect and look to for their opinions on important issues. If you do not have credible people involved in or actively supporting the change effort, it is likely to fail. Change, by its nature, tends to create disorganization and turmoil. Careful planning beforehand can reduce much of this turmoil and prevent resistance to change. Look for people who have:

  • Power - not all of the top executives must be involved, but you do need some power and authority on your side to prove that this is an important initiative.
  • Credibility - involve people who are trusted and believed in by others in the organization.
  • Experience - involve people who know the organization well and have experience in effectively introducing change.

Anticipate Obstacles

Anticipate obstacles, resistance, and reactions to the change before moving forward with implementation.

  • Identify the biggest challenges you think you will face based on organizational culture and dynamics. Create a group to help you brainstorm possible ways to address these obstacles. Use this information to help you shape your communication message.
  • Who will be impacted by the change Who has the most to win Who has the most to lose Who will feel threatened by the change For example, if you are introducing a new technology that will make customer interactions more efficient, does that mean you may need fewer customer service representatives Think about the potential reactions of different parties involved and develop a plan to address these reactions.

Craft Your Message

The success of a change initiative often hinges on a well-crafted information campaign. You must create a communication campaign that speaks clearly and directly to those involved.

  • Keep your message positive and emphasize the important results the change will yield.
  • Keep your campaign message simple. Although the change initiative and the underlying issues may be complex, find a way to conceptualize the change and the reason for change in a way that people can easily understand and personalize. Analogies and stories are great ways to communicate a complex message.
  • Make sure that your message links the change results to the business direction and goals.
  • Test your message with different groups to make sure it has the desired effect and makes sense to all. People will gravitate to a message that appeals to their common sense.
  • Create a message for each stage of the initiative. What is the message Who is the target audience Should there be different variations of the message for different groups How will we reach them

Shepherd the Change

Change is difficult for people. Change requires people to make a conscious effort to modify their habits, and, without an ongoing impetus to change, then will tend to fall back to old habits. Successful change initiatives require ongoing facilitation and management until the new behaviors become comfortable habits.

Communicate Regularly

Most resistance or anxiety about change comes from a lack of understanding. Eliminate as much ambiguity as is possible by informing people well.

  • Follow up. Many change agents make the mistake of developing a great “kick-off” message but then failing to communicate ongoing progress, successes, setbacks, etc. Give those affected regular updates.
  • Use multiple formats. Different people respond better to different media. Most are better influenced when the message is reinforce by multiple sources. Use combinations of letters, memos, emails, bulletin boards, websites, informational meetings and supervisor briefings.
  • Encourage two-way communication. Dialogues create more commitment than monologues and the process of responding to objections or requests for information will help you to refine your message.
  • Be honest. Hiding and obscuring the negative aspects of the change will undermine your credibility and may, ultimately, sabotage the change effort. Be open about the downsides of the change and try to help people see the necessity of paying this short-term cost to achieve the long-term gain. If you are uncertain about how the change will impact a specific group, admit it and assure the group that you will continue to communicate with them as the change is implemented.

Empower and Reward Positive Change

People often want to change, but do not know how to start. Provide resources to help people understand how to integrate the change into their own work and empower them to implement these changes. Then reward those who demonstrate positive change.

  • Help people to know what will be expected of them during and after the change. What skills will they need How will their role change Help them to assess their current skills and to formulate a plan to gain the skills that are necessary in the new environment.
  • Identify those people who are more likely to embrace change and solicit their help as you introduce the change to others. Ask your supporters to promote the benefits of the initiative to others and to help you overcome potential barriers. Reward their support with public recognition.
  • Allow others the freedom to indirectly or directly control change. Look for ways to allow others to participate in the change process.

Discourage Resistance

A certain amount of resistance is inevitable in any change initiative. While the main focus of your effort should be to encourage positive change, you may need to take some steps to discourage resistance as well.

  • Expect and plan for resistance. Allow for a defined grace period while people become accustomed to the change. After the grace period, clearly communicate expectations and the consequences for negative or inconsistent behaviors.
  • Remove barriers. Use input from resisters to find barriers to adoption. Try to remove these barriers.
  • “Walk the walk”. Model the new behaviors for others with your own activities. Require your managers to do the same. For example, do not send top management to an expensive retreat while championing a cost-cutting initiative.

Maintain Momentum

Organizations typically expend the greatest effort at the beginning of a change initiative. Remember, however, change initiatives are often most vulnerable after the initial phase (six to twelve months after their introduction) when the organization is still in transition. People tire of the topic, messages are lost, and the change falters or never takes hold. This is where your true change leadership skills come into play.

  • Continue to communicate. Continue to send clear messages regarding the change. Continue to spotlight people who have been champions for the change effort. Report stories about how the change is having an impact on customers, workforce productivity, etc.
  • Provide ongoing commitment in the form of financial resources, time investment, and priorities. Be constant and unwavering.

The discussion of the above management competency is part of our Assess for Managers Selection and Development program. This program currently has 38 defined management competencies that have been organized into five management levels. These competencies can also be custom tailored to your company’s management positions. If you would like to discuss this in more detail, please call us at 800-947-5678.