By Andrew Kupperman, SHRM-CP
I think most of us can agree that if we aren’t changing, we’re falling behind. From an evolutionary standpoint, without change and adaptation, animals typically become extinct. In our personal lives, change is happening every day. In fact, the current rate of change that is happening right now, with new ways to communicate, learn, and live, is far greater than it has ever been before. We go through change without even knowing it sometimes.
I would also think it’s not a far stretch to say most executives who run organizations and businesses agree that if their organizations aren’t thinking of ways to differentiate what they do today, it puts them at a great risk of falling behind, and at worst, going out of business. From a historical perspective, the most innovative ideas of products and services have come from people who haven’t been afraid of change or to be different. So, the great question remains: why is it so hard whenever change in business comes up? After all, in our personal lives, we experience change a lot. It shouldn’t be that hard at work too, right?
If you’ve ever had a job (and if you’re reading this, I’d bet you’ve had at least one), then you’ve likely gone through some kind of change at that job. Think back to that moment. Was it difficult for you to go through that change? If it wasn’t, were there others impacted by that change that found it difficult? I have a gut feeling most of us would answer at least one these questions “yes”, but why is that? We all know and realize change helps us progress, and again, we aren’t immune to change personally.
The first thing that crosses most people’s minds when the word change comes up at work, is something along the lines of dread, fear, or stubbornness around the idea. I understand, sometimes there are some changes put in to place that feel as if a change is being made for the sake of making a change. But the negative reaction to change tends to be the first instinct even if the change is something that is truly positive, and could even really help you a lot in what you do on a day to day basis. I think the root of this tends to be that change can be a signal that you’re not doing something right. But this is hardly ever the case.
Now, I ask you to think back to that example of change from before. Did you, and everyone else who was impacted by it, understand why the change was being put in to place? Did everyone adopt the change? Was that change really effective in what it was trying to achieve, and did you know if it was effective? I’d wager that in most of the examples you’re thinking of, more often than not, you’d would answer “no” to at least two of these questions. Here in lies the crux of the issue of change in the workplace.
Let’s talk about the phases of change real quick. Usually, a leadership team or whoever is leading a change, has some great reasons or impetus to implement the change. There may even be a lot of closed door meetings to strategize, formulate and brainstorm all of the potential impacts of the change and what it ultimately means to the business. Next, there might even be development and design on what the change is going to look like, as well as which people, systems, workflows, and tools are a part of that change.
There’s been a lot of great and important work done at the top of the “Change Chain” and now we’re ready to implement. But most leaders of change have forgotten two massive parts during these steps: 1. Getting feedback by those that are impacted by the change and 2. How to determine what is going to make that change successful. Without these two ingredients, you’ve set yourself up failure.
Leaders of change need to realize the importance of involving those that are going to be impacted by the change. Maybe these folks can point something out that a leader hasn’t thought of, or didn’t have the right perspective to even think about it in the first place. Inclusion in the strategic and development process can also help to pinpoint potential problem areas or roadblocks that might come up during an implementation. Involving the right people in a change before it is implemented increases the chance for adoption and success.
Leaders of change also can’t lose sight of the ultimate goal of a change, and how to determine if that goal has been reached. Having clear set milestones, metrics, or visuals of what a successful change looks like can help a team determine how a change is going, and what tweaks might need to be made in order to get the change to finish line of success. Remember, tweaks in implementing a change is okay – it’s nearly impossible to implement a change project without them, so flexibility in the plan is key. Also, these measurements of successful change should be transparent and clear to the team and stakeholders involved in the change.
More importantly, there is something else leaders of change have also failed at a lot, and this is something that happens even before coming up with an idea for a change. I’m talking about having an organizational mindset around change to begin with. Going back to the beginning of my post, I established that change is necessary to progress an organization and keep it from becoming irrelevant. Yet, we often create cultures, work environments, and employee mindsets that can easily clash with the notion of change. We need to fix this, and it always is going to start from the top. Leaders need to disseminate a love for change and acceptance across every corner of their organizations. Then, and only then, can there be a pathway to successful change. Otherwise, we are doomed to continue this pattern of failed change after change.