Four Rules for Successful Change Management

Four Rules for Successful Change Management

Change Management

By Jeff Durr, Senior Managing Consultant, and Craig Kamins, Subject Matter

We, at Gallup, hear all too often from senior leaders who are frustrated with change management initiatives that are failing. Leaders continue to fall short of their goals with change programs, whether it is a new product launch, an organizational restructure, a new customer service program, or an effort to increase cross selling. Leaders can increase their probability of success with any change initiative by keeping in mind these four simple rules.

1. Do not delegate large-scale organizational change to middle management. Senior leaders are best positioned to address large-scale change, despite their desire to empower middle managers. They are the only ones with the perspective to solve the complicated problems that arise during major change initiatives. Senior leaders are more likely than middle managers to be able to simplify and explain how the external environment impacts their organization. Additionally, senior leaders can best explain the economic factors behind the change and add clarity to the situation.

2. Actively solicit feedback from employees before change occurs. Leaders should solicit feedback from employees at all levels and have “pre-change” conversations to understand their employees’ key priorities and concerns. An employee’s viewpoint on the organization can change depending on his or her role, tenure, or level of engagement — understanding these issues and concerns before implementing change can mean the difference between success and failure. Leaders should use multiple communication channels to have these “pre-change” conversations with employees and be sure to respond to employees’ questions and concerns.

3. Respect organizational culture, but do not let it dictate the intensity and breadth of change. When leaders appreciate and consider the organizational culture — employees’ expectations, norms, and behaviors — during large organizational change initiatives, it can make a world of difference. Even acknowledging that cultural barriers exist can have a positive effect on the success of large-scale changes.

At the same time, true organizational change challenges the status quo and resets underlying workplace issues. As change and culture meet, a natural friction is likely to occur. Leaders should be prepared to compromise on cultural issues that are not critical to accomplishing successful change.

This marriage of old and new won’t ever be exact, and a likely outcome of the change initiatives will be eliminating ineffective norms and behaviors. Leaders need to understand that this cultural shift can be a gradual process and that organizations, like humans, are only capable of digesting so much at one given time.

4. Clearly communicate your strategy and your reasoning behind the change. Leaders should not assume that the company’s strategy is clear and that employees — particularly managers and front-line employees — understand “why” and “how” the company will be changing. Making strategy relevant to front-line employees’ day-to-day work should be a leadership team’s primary objective.

Leaders also need to define the problem, be honest about the challenges, and show that the strategy they build and execute is logical. Leaders should be transparent about the future risks — being open and honest with employees is a highly effective policy in the face of large-scale change.

Senior leadership’s real job, regardless of their individual title or job description, is to develop and implement successful change initiatives. Many senior leaders fail because they aren’t able to help an organization evolve. The more effective you are at change management, the higher your value to any organization.

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