The field of change management has been a wide scale topic of interest in the business industry for close to three decades now. The heightened awareness in more recent years is certainly tied to the fact that technology and product development demands are ever changing and evolving at a pace and scale not seen in decades past. Just look at changing automobile designs, medical technological developments or the rapid evolution of PCs and smartphones. In order to keep up with the rapid pace of business environments that demand better and faster all the time, successful businesses need strong leaders who are trained and talented in the area of change management.
A critical piece of leading and developing the workforce is teaching them to manage change appropriately. As the adage goes, the one constant is change. What is frightening, however, is how often management teams fail to apply a disciplined approach to change. Perhaps this why John Kotter, one of the most renowned leaders in the study of change, points out that 70% of change initiatives fail in organizations (http://newdirectionsconsulting.com/4639/blog/why-70-of-change-initiatives-fail-2/).
So what qualifies as change? I’ve experienced the large and obvious, such as leading a company through a workforce change across multiple states. Or, rolling out a widescale new IT system in over half the country. But how about the smaller changes? Did you know that humans experience the same emotions with both positive and negative changes? Did you know that every time we get a new team member, and certainly a new leader, we go through a cycle of team chaos and eventually forming and getting normal? Did you know that this change continuum mimicks the symptoms of dealing with death and dying? The reality is that change is part of our human experience, and dealing with it part of our human fiber. Emotions are normal and we cannot keep them from being provoked when change presents itself. As such, critcal to any corporation’s success is learning to teach employees to manage through change and to manage through these emotions in a healthy way.
As a matter of regular daily management I tend to apply what I call a blueprint for winning in my activities and projects. Sometimes I map it out on a real paper blueprint. Sometimes I just keep this in my mind. It goes something like this. Whenever setting out to accomplish a significant task with critical outcomes, I enter into an exercise whereby I list out the present state and then list out the future desire state. Then, I map out the various obstacles that are likely to crop up in the journey towards the desired future state. From here very intentional planning needs to take place. And this very intentional planning needs to be realistic. For example, last year I set out to roll out a new LMS system to 270 employees. We knew that a huge portion of the employees had little to no PC experience. So there were a bunch of things that were going to be obstacles. For example, simple fear of technology. Anticipating this we campaigned in advance and sold the many benefits of the new technology. This included learning skills to prepare for electronic medical records (something mandated by PPACA and planned for rollout to all healthcare practitioners). This also included becoming more agile in skills which can be a benefit personally. This also included a more efficient learning process to save time, and a great way to tracks CEUs. And so forth. These selling points were preached in meetings and newsletters and other communication mediums. Sell though we may, of course we had many who were struggling more intensely. We created a culture of acceptance in terms of understanding the struggle. On many, many occasions we set up 1:1 in depth training with employees to help them grasp the new systems and just to talk through how they were feeling. The point is, this simple thing, which involved having associates take a variety of simple online classes each year, was not so simple. Had we not planned the obstacles in the path of desired future LMS state (fear, IT trouble, etc), the expenses poured into a new training facility / PCs / LMS platform / training leader salary / etc, may have been a business waste.
The reality is that leaders need to be thoroughly trained in the knowledge of change management. Without leaders bought in and sensitive to the human impact of change, failure is imminent. The most dangerous force in a change continuum is an impatient leader who judges and does not lead wisely. There are outside seminars and courses that can equip your leaders to proper diagnose change need, sell the change to teams, lead change and sustain change. Only leaders who see themselves as constant change agents engaging in this process can be good leaders. This is because change is a constant, and therefore strong change agents are a constant need for the successful business.