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The Future of Change Management

December 03, 2020 Leadership
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Companies go through changes and crises during their lives. It’s an unavoidable fact. But one thing that separates successful companies from unsuccessful ones is they are capable of weathering change. 

Change is natural. It needs to happen. The problem is how companies manage it. According to one report from industry analyst Gartner, more than 80% of organizations manage change from the top down. That means leaders are the ones making decisions and then communicating what needs to happen to the rest of the company.

In today’s business world, the top-down approach isn't effective. Control-and-command management causes change initiatives to stall. Today, companies are much more interconnected and information flows horizontally. This calls for retooling and reassessment of change management.

An Evolutionary Approach to Change Management

Gartner's IT glossary defines change management as the “automated support for development, rollout and maintenance of system components.” But organizational change management goes beyond that, and involves every initiative capable of disrupting the everyday operations of a business. 

Done right, change management oils the gears of an organization, making it more flexible, nimble and able to face the changing trends of the digital ecosystem. In a recent report, Forrester analyst Karina Cardona-Smits wrote that the reason behind the failure of most change initiatives is rooted in our brain structures. Humans are naturally averse to change, and that’s often visible in companies, where the structure mimics a small society. 

To face the future, whether the priority is adapting to technological change or new ways of thinking, managers need to understand the nature of the change in itself and what it means to adapt to it. At the same time, they need to gain deeper insights into their industry and the reasons that hinder change. Lastly, they need to understand what to do to prepare workers for change and get them to move from dreading change to seeking it. 

With the changes the pandemic has brought, we’re sitting at a crossroads. Change management is evolving, going from a purely business perspective to a much more psychological, even evolutionary perspective on change and its effects on people. But the future is clear and the path for change is open. Embracing uncertainty has become pivotal to success.

Related Article: Why Change Needs to Be Managed in the Digital Workplace

Keys to Planning for Change

Identify Business Objectives

Change for its own sake or without clear sight of where things are going is doomed to fail. To drive growth through change, companies need to understand what the business objectives are. Common goals include decreasing employee attrition or improving productivity. 

“I also recommend defining secondary objectives that support your primary goals," said Laura Hoang, head of corporate marketing at Reflektive, a San Francisco-based provider of employee performance management software. "Milestones around employee behaviors help you measure progress and serve as KPIs on your performance journey."

Identify Change Ambassadors

A single person can’t drive company-wide change, not even the CEO. To manage change, companies need to identify key stakeholders who can help gain the leverage and buy-in needed to encourage new ways of thinking and doing business. 

Keep in mind that ambassadors don’t need to be technically oriented. According to the Gartner report, 64% of employees already have the skills required to change successfully, and 74% said they are willing to support change. That means change ambassadors could be everywhere and have any role. The challenge is to find them.

Related Article: 4 Ways to Help Workers Cope With Change Management

Develop a Calendar and a Launch Plan

Develop a calendar to keep track of change-related events, reviews and coaching sessions happening in the company. That helps keep team members accountable and in the loop about change-related events. To guide the team through the launch plan, create a how-to document that describes the new processes and tools they will be using in the future.

Make Changes Stick

This can be the most difficult part of change management. Keeping goals and the desired changes fresh in the minds of workers is crucial. To do so, make change management a daily part of a company's relationship with workers. Build it into training programs and weave it into strategy. 

However, life happens to even the best change management plan, and new changes can supersede planned ones. “The biggest flaw in planning is to develop one strategic plan and try to stick to it," said Diane Gayeski, professor of strategic communications at Ithaca, NY.-based Ithaca College. "Many factors just cannot be anticipated and the worst thing that a company can do is to stick to a bad plan.”

Instead of planning for one scenario, plan for variable situations and keep options open. That way, as new situations arise, the change management plan can be adjusted.  

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