Every person in a business has to implement some kind of change at some point, and anyone who has ever had to implement change in a business will understand how difficult and time-consuming it is to make the change effective and permanent. However, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution starts to really take hold with automation, robotics and drones, change is inevitable and people, particularly managers, need to master implementing change quickly and effectively.
For over 27 years I have been helping companies all over the world plan and implement change. Without doubt, there is one key step which lays the foundation for successful change, and that is ensuring at least 75% of your staff understand the need for change. They don’t have to agree with the reason initially but they must understand why it is necessary, otherwise, they will keep questioning your decision. It is only once you have overcome this first hurdle, that you can begin to move forward.
Why do I believe that this is the vital first step to success?
Most of us are quite happy to live in our comfort zone. Ensuring we take on just enough responsibility to cope with, we often look for the easy option; the option that will get us through the day with the least effort. As such, we will avoid focusing on something new that requires additional effort, thought and energy. Taking risks and doing things differently means we might disturb our equilibrium, and so we will avoid change whenever possible.
All of this means that, as managers, when we are faced with implementing change, no matter how small, we have an uphill journey on our hands. So, it is vital that we get the first step right and create strong foundations to ensure successful change is implemented and accepted.
My experience has shown that some changes are easier to implement than others. In a company which is in real trouble, people in the organisation are more aware of the issues at hand. They therefore accept and engage with the change quickly because they know the dire consequences if they don’t. However, in the majority of companies that I work with and visit, this is not the case. The need for change, the sense of urgency associated with it, is not obvious to all in the business. So, when we ask people to do things in a different way, the first question they ask is ‘Why?’
If they are being asked to do things differently, to step out of their comfort zone and take a risk, then we must explain why it’s necessary otherwise they will not engage and may resist altogether. This leads to change taking longer or, at worst, not happening at all. Ultimately, this means a waste of all the time and money we have spent attempting to implement the change.
So, how do you articulate the need for change?
When I work with senior management teams who are trying to change the culture of an organisation or want to implement a new system or process, I ask them to explain the need for change to me. Unfortunately, I have lost count of the number of management teams who find it really difficult to tell me in simple terms why they want to make the changes. What’s more, those who are able to articulate the need for change can only provide it from the perspective of senior managers.
If we are to achieve the goal of convincing 75% of the need for change, then we must be able to articulate the need for change in a manner that our team understand and believe in.
You must be able to explain the need for change from different perspectives. This means that you can’t use the same presentation and approach for everyone in the business; what is important to them will be different from what is important to you. You must invest time and effort in understanding your people, where the business currently is, and what is vital to each person.
I would suggest that you think about the following areas:
- Customers’ perspective
- The business performance perspective
- The market’s perspective
- Your competitive position
- Your people’s perspective
When you are articulating the need for change, you should emphasise the consequences of not changing. This means painting the picture for your team. For example, you must explain that while things are okay now, if change does not happen now your competition will overtake you. This may mean that fewer people can be taken on, that overtime is stopped and in some cases, that the company could go bust altogether.
You need to convey the benefits of going through all this change and turmoil. This is where the activity of adopting the perspective of your employees comes in handy. As opposed to articulating why it will benefit the company, think of the ways it will positively impact each individual. In other words, tell people what is in it for them.
Now you need to determine the vision for the future. Think, what the world will look like for your employees once the change has been implemented? Again, you can generate this vision from each of the perspectives considered in Step One. This vision will give your team a goal to work towards, both focusing and motivating them.
If we assume that after one well laid out communication, our team will understand and accept the need for change, then we are being naïve. So, the next element is to really ensure that everyone understands what has been said. This means setting up a communications plan to let people digest, question and comment on the need for change. Employees need to hear the message a number of times, from different people. They need to believe what is being said and be given the time to ask questions and feel they are getting the truth in return. They need to discuss it with friends and colleagues and will probably have more questions which will demand more answers. After you have been through that process, hopefully, they will understand the need and, with luck, accept it.
This all requires time and effort from management. You will need to plan communications well, set up feedback loops, develop your delivery style and anticipate questions that people may not have asked before. Typically, to do this well, you will need to have someone dedicated to working on these elements. The right person for the job will need to be a charismatic presenter who is trusted and able to influence others.
What to avoid when articulating the need for change
So, the above is everything you must do and consider when articulating the need for change. Of course, there are also things you must avoid doing altogether. Things that will undermine your efforts or cause even more confusion. Here is my list of top Don’ts when articulating change:
In my experience, doing any of the points listed above will drastically reduce your chance of convincing your employees of the need for change. Investing well in these early stages of change will undoubtedly pay off in the long run and, although it may not seem to initially, it will shorten the whole change process. Getting this first stage right and having at least 75% of your staff understand why you are doing this means that you will be well on the road to implementing successful change. You can then concentrate on the next two key questions people must answer for themselves:
- Will it be worth it?
- Can I do it?
Once the entire team can answer yes to these two questions, then you will be ready to implement a successful change.
This is the first article in a three-part series. Look out for next week’s article, ‘Implementing change successfully: four reasons why you’re failing’ for more expert advice on setting your change up for success. Can’t wait till then? Call 0800 066 3749 to talk to one of our team about your change management needs.