Since the start of the recession, organisations have made cuts where they can, but there now appears to be precious little slack left to prune.
As a result, over the year ahead, many employers are likely to start refocusing activities and the introduction of change seems to be a certainty. But while change tends to generate fear, when managed correctly, it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Indeed, there are seven secrets to making a successful business transformation. Although none of the secrets are complex, it is all too easy to get caught up in day-today activities, which means that insufficient time is dedicated to thinking about the change process itself. Keeping these simple points in mind will ensure that any transition is managed smoothly, whether it involves a major business shift or a small tweak. 1. Be clear about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it Although it sounds like common sense, one of the biggest ‘secrets’ to successfully managing change is to develop a well-ordered vision for why it needs to happen in the first place. Too many companies are unclear of their aims or communicate them poorly, even to their most senior people. Therefore, initially, it is imperative to agree on why the project should take place. If this fundamental issue is inadequately constructed or communicated, it leads to a lack of buy-in elsewhere in the organisation. As a result, it is essential to have a clear sense of what you need to do and why you need to do it before you start anything else. 2. Leadership must be visible Once aims and objectives have been defined, it is essential to ensure that the top team is aligned and together on messaging. It is not enough to simply accept the need for change and agree on terms behind closed doors – it is essential that the senior management team is prepared to stand in front of the organisation and explain what they are doing, why they are doing it and why it is right for the organisation. An important aspect of this approach is that any disagreements among members of the management team must take place in private as they need to show a united front in public. 3. Ensure that you have employee buy-in People of all levels of seniority must be engaged. Ultimately, change is likely to have an impact on all employees and so it is only sensible that senior managers ask for their views and help in getting the underlying processes right. While it is inevitable that any change process will lead to some alteration in their daily activities, ensuring that staff are involved ensures that they feel valued and appreciated and means that they should be more supportive of what is taking place. 4. Be open and honest in communications It is also essential to keep employees fully informed. Senior managers often think that they are protecting people by not telling them the full situation, but the truth always leaks out. The worst possible scenario is when the rumour mill runs riot and generates suppositions that are far worse than anything being planned in reality. So, it is better for employers to take control of any messages being communicated, to demonstrate that they are being upfront and to tell people what is happening and why. For example, if it is necessary to cut jobs, it is important to tell people this fact so that they expect it to happen – there is nothing to be gained by pretending it won’t take place, except a loss of trust. But it is equally important not to oversell the future - which many organisations have a tendency to do - no matter how tempting it is to tell people how fantastic things will be. No new process will be perfect and people know and understand that. If you tell them that it will be, it will only lead to distrust and disappointment. Instead tell them that things will be difficult, but that change is essential and needs to happen. But also reassure people that you will keep on reviewing the process to make sure that it is working effectively, while letting them know that the transition is unlikely to be seamless. Remember that it is important to strike a balance between reality and positivity in your communications, however. There is a tendency to think that change will be bigger than it is and, therefore, to focus on all that is shifting rather than what is staying the same. But people need to be reassured that they are not losing everything and that there will still be processes they can rely on and hold on to. 5. Change must be adequately supported One of the biggest factors in ensuring the successful introduction of change is to ensure that employees are given adequate support to help make it a reality. All too often, organisations fiddle with reporting lines and structures, but everyone continues to work in the same way and nothing really alters. So while people are shuffled around, no real change has been made. But introducing real change means more than simply drawing up a new organisational chart. Instead it must have an impact on processes, how people work and who they work with. To enable staff to make these changes, however, they must be provided with the necessary resources, which include suitable training and development, in order to ensure that they know how to work differently. Change is difficult and people find it far easier to revert to what they know rather than move to a new system. Therefore, they have to be helped through it, which includes giving them the necessary time and support to make the required changes. Ultimately, there is no point spending millions of pounds on implementing new systems or processes if you have never explained to employees how to use them or given them the time to learn. Helping people through change is just as essential as getting the process right in the first place. 6. Ensure project teams remain focused It is important to ensure that any planned changes are actually introduced. It is essential that senior managers grasp the difficulties involved in implementing change and recognise that the people responsible for planning and undertaking such work must be temporarily relieved of some of their duties in order to focus on it. If everything takes place in-between other day-to-day duties, it will take a long time and the chances of success are much lower. Members of the project team need to be disciplined, stay connected and talk amongst themselves regularly so that everyone knows what is happening in each area. The more complex a project becomes and the more interdependencies it develops in terms of roles, operating models and processes, the more that introducing change in one area is likely to have an impact on another. As a result, regular contact and discussion between members of the project management team is vital. 7. Be flexible Don’t be afraid to adapt and change as new information comes to light and more thorough research is conducted. It is important that your stakeholders appreciate that the first solution proposed will not necessarily be the final one. To ensure that it is the optimal one, however, the first step is to design ‘Guiding Principles’, which are non-negotiable. On starting a project, it is important to set parameters such as ‘consistency’, ‘streamlining’ or ‘staff retention’ within which to work and evaluate any outcomes against. But be prepared to be flexible and change your thinking as the programme develops in order to ensure you get the most out of these Guiding Principles. Ultimately change management doesn’t have to be a complicated, stressful or even frightening process. The big thing to remember is try not to pretend it isn’t happening as this approach will only lead to problems at a later date. Instead be open and upfront and keep staff engaged throughout the process to ensure that they are fully behind the shift and support it.
Matt Keen is engagement manager at management consultancy, Maxxim Consulting.