In a constantly moving and changing business world, it can become incredibly easy to skip past the most important part of the change management process. The easy part is for leadership to identify the need for a change. For example, we need a new ERP system in order to do business in today’s world. Or, we need to hire new leaders globally in order to compete with the industry. Or, we need to move a physical plant location to be able to produce at a more competitive rate. And so forth. Frankly, identifying the need is the easy part. And, it’s not too hard to map out the technical steps in project planning tools to get there. It’s not too hard to order materials, plan manufacturing systems, hire staff or any of the other “planning and implementation” pieces. The problem is that if we jump from recognizing need to change to implementing change tactically, we risk immense failure. Not immediate failure. No. The kind of failure that is like a virus that seeps in and slowly zaps a person of strength. It’s the culture and disengagement virus and in this case the being “infected” is the company and the company performance. To avoid this change failure virus from seeping in, proper change theory centered around inspiring teams to champion the change needs to be applied.
Once the realization is made by management that change is needed for the business’ well-being, the challenge of convincing staff members of this and leading them through it begins.In their book titled Change Management Strategies for an Effective EMR, Claire McCarthy and Douglas Eastman, PhD, discuss how it is a fool’s paradise to diminish the human component of successful change management. In this book the topic of installing an EMR (electronic medical records) in a healthcare institution is being discussed (Eastman, McCarthy, 2010). However, the authors speak generally to the dangerous notion that simply with good training and tools a change can be pulled off without a hitch. In reality people go through a grieving process when an old way of doing things meets its demise. This can be parallel to the death and dying process. In order to cope, leaders must lead the employees through an ending (of the old way) and help them let go of the current reality, then help lead them through a confused state of “in between,” and then after that the leaders can lead them through the new beginning/change (Eastman,McCarthy, 2010). Solid training and tools are a must; however, they are a moot point and in fact money will be wasted if the staff is not ready to use the tools and training. Eastman and McCarthy drive this point home by pointing out how two thirds of IT change initiatives fail because companies fail to understand all of these working parts.
Next, leaders must be prepared to face a variety of objections during this process of bringing employees through the transition into the new reality. Each objection may be unique. Some common objections include a mere dislike of change, discomfort with uncertainty, perception of negative impact on personal interests, attachment to an old culture and process, perceived breach of psychological contract, lacking conviction of the need, confusion due to lack of clarity, belief that the change in inappropriate or timing is wrong, struggles with excessive change or a perception of ethical problems with the change (Palmer, Dunford, Akin, 2009). The effective leader must choose to have patience with this process and clearly address every concern a logical and thoughtful fashion. Forums to address concerns should be varied. They can include town hall meetings and 1:1 meetings as well as a variety of appropriate print material and an embedded educational opportunity woven into other training processes and corporate materials. Every opportunity to weave the change theme and reasons into daily communication should be capitalized on. And there is no reason this cannot be fun! I’ve pulled teams together in group training sessions to brainstorm change coping techniques and bond over a meal at a nice hotel. The resulting was a pamphlet of 200 ways we could help each other through the change. By merely treating my employees with care, facing the reality that change it hard, and helping them form a human bond to help each other through the change we drove a level of engagement and success that was astounding. In this particular case we were implementing a wildly different healthcare software system that my nurses were worried about. The result of successful implementation translated to huge care management improvement. We needed happy and compliant end users!
The more eloquent and inspirational leaders may fare well in this convincing and staff engagement phase. One simple approach is to learn to tell stories about change and make parallels through stories to convince employees. Such storytelling involves 1-becoming a good storyteller, 2-actually having positive and emotionally engaging stories about others and 3-being a good listener and being tuned into others as the storytelling process turns into a dialogue opportunity with the staff (Parker, 2004). Whatever the method, the good leader is inevitably a dynamic communicator and must have patience and wisdom with this process to get through it. This convincing and dealing with resistance phase of the process is somewhat universal and the approach requires a convincing and trusted leader, regardless what the change initiative is. Each leader may have their own style but the principles of understanding human response to change and leading them through this are universal.
Now there’s more to the change theory than simply the convincing phase. However this convincing and engagement piece is an utterly critical ingredient in change. It’s the coach’s pep talk before the big game so to speak.
Akin, G., Palmer, I. and Dunford, R. (2009). Managing Organizational Change. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Eastman, D., McCarthy, C (2010). Change Management Strategies for an Effective EMR Implementation. Chicago, IL: HIMSS
Parkin, M. (2004). Tales for Change: Using Storytelling to Develop People. London, GBR: Kogan Page Ltd.