Responding as a leader to major changes and supporting your team through them is essential to success in today’s workplace.
Change means instability. Instability leads to insecurity. Insecurity creates fear.
There’s a limit to how effective your support can be, simply because a certain amount of that reaction is personality-driven.
You might not have a formal change manager but treating it as if you are can make a huge difference.
What does a change manager do?
A change manager is responsible for planning, implementing, and managing organizational change initiatives. They work to ensure that changes are successful by minimizing resistance and maximizing adoption. Change managers typically have a strong understanding of human behavior and organizational dynamics.
Here are some of the specific duties of a change manager:
- Develop and implement change management plans: Change managers create plans that outline the steps that need to be taken to implement a change successfully. These plans typically include a timeline, communication strategy, and training plan.
- Assess the impact of change: Change managers assess the potential impact of change on individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole. This helps them to identify potential risks and develop mitigation strategies.
- Identify and manage resistance to change: Change managers work to identify and manage resistance to change. They use a variety of strategies to do this, such as communication, training, and coaching.
- Monitor and evaluate change initiatives: Change managers monitor the progress of change initiatives and evaluate their effectiveness. This helps them to identify areas where improvements can be made.
How to measure effective change management
It’s easier to invest the time if you know what you’re aiming for and why.
Depending on the change, it can impact:
- Employee engagement measured through surveys, focus groups, and interviews. It checks employee morale, willingness to adopt change, and overall engagement in the change process.
- Communication effectiveness: This can be measured through employee feedback, communication metrics, and surveys.
- Adoption rate, by tracking the number of employees who adopt the change, the speed at which adoption occurs, and the level of adoption across different groups.
- Business outcome metrics like financial metrics, customer satisfaction metrics, and operational metrics. The key question here is: Is the change achieving the desired business outcomes, such as increased productivity, improved customer satisfaction, or cost savings?
4 stages of change management
The first stage is the preparation.
For example, let’s say you run a Support team and you need a more flexible hiring model, due to the specific circumstances that your company is facing. Because of this situation, you start researching different outsourcing companies.
In an ideal scenario, before you even get to the point where you start researching, you should have already discussed with your team the kinds of challenges you’re facing currently and that you’re thinking of a way to handle them. This means that by the time you actually get to outsourcing some of your support, the shock response is much lower.
As another example, say you’ve been struggling to manage performance in your team, either you’re finding it difficult to understand how everyone is performing in comparison to others or you’re finding it hard to identify what low performance looks like.
To solve this problem, you start thinking about the KPIs that you have available and defining some general standards across your team.
You should also start talking about this openly with your team well before any decision is made. Wherever and however you can include your team in the process that leads up to the change, you should do so. If you can’t include them, for whatever reason, be prepared for the pushback. That’s when the communication stage will hopefully come in handy.
Here’s a quick checklist to get your preparation done right:
- Research the different options you have available for dealing with your challenge
- Consider what the short-, mid-, and long-term consequences of this change will be
- Get as much buy-in from the people most impacted by the change as possible
- If you’re able to communicate it openly to start, try to at least get buy-in from your experienced and senior staff
- Make yourself articulate, as concisely as possible, why it is you’re implementing this change
- Understand how this change will impact the different layers of employees you have across your company
- Talk to others (in the industry or in your company) who have implemented similar changes and learn from their experience
Communication is one of the most complicated things to get right.
If you approach it systematically, it will likely go better. Here are some tips that might help:
- Create a communication plan for yourself but don’t overthink it. You want to make sure that you’re articulate and you know what you want to say but it cannot sound rehearsed.
- Once again, be absolutely clear on the reasons you’re implementing it. I cannot emphasise enough how essential it is to cover the “why” behind every decision, especially one that has an impact.
- Be as honest and open as you can be about the background and everything that went into the decision in the first place.
- Talk about the goals that you’re trying to achieve with this. Envision the best case scenario and conceptualise it for your team, so they can see it too. It’s easier for people to jump on board if they understand what you’re working towards.
- Ensure that everyone is informed directly, from the source, as quickly as possible.
- Be vulnerable. Maybe you’re also worried about how it’ll turn out or you can’t exactly predict the consequences. It’s better for you to say that than to pretend that you have all the answers.
- Try to talk to people individually, rather than to the group. It’s much easier to listen to someone properly when you’re talking one-on-one, and it’ll be easier for them to hear what you have to say too. One-on-one conversations are by their nature more humanising and bring people closer together.
- Make sure you plan in time to give people room and space to process it.
There are some messages that should come through as clearly as you can possibly make it in your communication. For example:
- You’re happy to discuss it in-depth with people whenever they need.
- You understand they might have questions and concerns.
- You will support them in whatever way you can.
It’s easy to underestimate how much of a difference the feeling that someone’s got your back can make when it comes to adjusting to something new.
There is such a thing as too much communication.
One of the hardest aspects of change management is knowing when to cut your losses. If you’ve invested hours of your time discussing the change with someone in your team and they still aren’t convinced or on board with it, you have to at some point accept that that can’t be helped.
If they’re not only unconvinced by it but they actively raise the discussion repeatedly with you or other teammates, you need to disengage from it and shield your team from it as much as possible.
It’s important to recognise that you have limited time, energy, and resources. One of your key responsibilities is to invest that in the right place and trying to have the same discussion repeatedly is not a good use of your time.
The more you humour it, the more it’ll hold your team back from adapting to the change and moving on.
Communicate. Communicate a lot. Expect that it will be necessary for a long time but pay attention to whether it gets too much.
It’s time to actually roll out the change.
Assume a longer timeline
The first one is to assume that it’ll take weeks, if not months, for people to adapt to it. How long exactly will depend on the person, the type of change, the kind of environment you have and many other factors.
Once people have started adjusting to it, they might have new suggestions and feedback that didn’t occur to them before. Maybe some of those suggestions will be things that you didn’t think of previously either. Have an open ear for all of these things.
It could be that everything is technically rolled out but it takes a long time for you to truly understand the consequences of the decision.
For example, it’s possible that rolling out KPI goals across your team will have an impact on the culture and working environment in your team. This isn’t something that you can see or understand in the short-term.
It’s important to give yourself time to really get how people react to it, why they react in certain ways, and what the best way to move forward is for you. It’s much better to build this time into your plan, rather than scrambling to get everything done as quickly as you can.
Demystify the change
The second one is to try to demystify the change as quickly as possible.
If you’re rolling out a process that everyone in your team will have to suddenly start using for large proportions of their working day, show them what it will look like, talk to them about the purpose behind it, and how you’ll use the data from it.
If you’re changing the management structure within the team, give them access to their new managers as quickly as possible, make sure they have opportunities to interact with this person and get to know them and so on.
Establish success criteria
The third one is to establish success criteria early on in the process of implementation.
The more specific you are with your success criteria, the easier it will be for you to evaluate how your implementation went by the end. If at all possible, it’s great to make your success criteria measurable. Even if the main goal you want to achieve isn’t measurable in the first instance, think of ways that you could make it so.
Say you’re rolling out a career path structure across your team so that every individual has the opportunity to advance their careers.
- Perhaps this is something you started looking into because you felt that your retention rate wasn’t as good as it could be and some of the reasons behind that were down to career development opportunities.
- It’s pretty easy to measure whether introducing career paths had an impact (by taking, for example, the 2-year retention rate from before and measuring it against the 2-year retention rate afterwards).
- Maybe your retention rate is actually fine but what you want to increase is employee engagement. In this case, the best way to make the impact measurable would be to run an employee engagement survey before that asks everyone to rate different aspects of their experience.
- Then you could run the same survey afterwards to measure the impact of your project. Your success criteria could look something like “increase overall employee engagement by x%.”
It’s useful to make your success criteria transparent so that everyone understands that you will be evaluating the change and reacting to what you learn.
This isn’t because you need to give the impression that you’ll roll changes back over time but rather to establish an open, transparent culture, in which failure is allowed and accepted.
It’s a way to say: We’ll see if this works and if it doesn’t, we’ll react to it because we’re measuring it and can tell.
Limit the frequency of large changes
When you’re going through the implementation of something like this, you should always limit exactly how often you roll out big changes across your team.
It’s much better to do smaller changes incrementally, give people time to adapt to them, and then build on them slowly, rather than shaking everything up every few months. It could be that you can’t avoid it because those changes are forced by external circumstances (for example, an acquisition). That can’t be helped. Where you can help it though, you should definitely try.
Change fatigue is real and it will slow your team down.
It’ll also make it hard for them to regain their engagement and vitality, and it won’t help you when it comes to building a resilient, adaptable team.
How long you wait to do the evaluation depends on the kind of change and how long the process to get there was.
If it took 6 months just to roll it out, it’ll likely take 6 months for people to even start adjusting to it.
You want to give yourself enough distance that you can look back and identify both short- and mid-term consequences honestly but not so much distance that you forget how the initial process went.
It might help to keep a “lessons learned” document where you jot down thoughts related to how it’s going throughout so that when you’re doing the final evaluation at the end, you have enough information to look back on without relying exclusively on your memory.
It’s best to share your evaluation and make that transparent.
It’s likely that their perspectives will enrich yours and it will also allow you to establish a culture around reflection and learning from every experience across your team.
Ultimately, to know if your change was really successful, you need to look at its adoption rate (how many people have participated and engaged with it) and what their impressions and feelings about that change are.