Woodrow Wilson once said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” This maxim sheds some light on why change management is such a challenge for business leaders.
Yet change is a necessity in our ever-evolving business world. To remain relevant, corporations must embrace change, and leaders must effectively manage it.
Is your company evolving? Here are five key principles to keep in mind as you tackle the daunting task of leading change management.
Principle #1: Provide crystal-clear communication
Change management translates into staff management, and constant communication is the most effective way for managers to lead employees through change. It’s critical to clearly communicate to your staff the reasons for change.
It is also important to communicate with employees at all levels in the organization during major change initiatives. According to recent research by Towers Watson, only two-thirds (68 percent) of senior managers feel they are getting the full picture on why a change is taking place. And only half (53 percent) of middle managers and 40 percent of first-line supervisors say business leaders do a good job of explaining the reasons for a change.
Use multiple channels to relay essential information to your employees, and repeat the message as often as needed. Leaders can deliver the message to staff verbally in meetings; in written form via email, newsletters and company memos; and visually through videos and PowerPoint presentations.
Of course, communication is a two-way street. Ask your employees for their feedback and be sure to maintain an open-door policy. Let staff members know they can approach you at any time to ask questions or express their concerns. Two-way communication not only can boost your staff’s awareness and understanding of change but also can create a sense of trust among your employees and inspire their support for change.
Principle #2: Consider your culture
As you lead change, it’s essential to keep your company culture in mind. Tap into your organization’s shared assumptions, values and behaviors to determine how to approach change.
One way to make things easier on your staff as your business goes through a period of change is by preserving aspects of the current culture that they like. For example, if your small business is expanding rapidly, try to hold on to the collegial and collaborative atmosphere that you’ve long maintained.
Also, work to build a sense of community around the change. Publish updates on the company intranet or in the corporate newsletter, and share stories of how employees are helping each other to adapt to the new status quo. Consider holding social events to help new hires and existing staff — or a newly reorganized team — to get to know each other better and understand how they will work together.
Principle #3: Pace yourself
Change management is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s important to move forward with just the right amount of urgency and ensure you achieve each objective without putting undue pressure on your employees. If you move too quickly, your team members can become overwhelmed and may resist change.
Give your employees time to accept and digest change. But don’t err in the other direction and progress too slowly. If you take too long to incorporate change, your employees can lose interest.
Principle #4: Create accountability
In times of corporate change, leaders must set clear roles and expectations for their staff members and hold them accountable for their actions. Giving your employees a well-defined set of responsibilities can empower and engage them because they feel they have a hand in the organization’s plans for change.
While you should certainly hold team members liable when they make a blunder, it’s also crucial to give them a pat on the back when they accomplish goals associated with a change. Accountability and appreciation will keep the momentum going.
Principle #5: Measure your success
One of the biggest mistakes managers make when leading change is neglecting to step back and gauge successes and shortcomings before moving forward. As you reach each objective, it’s important to stop, look around and take stock.
Think about what’s working and what’s not, which employees are embracing change and which ones aren’t. Once you take time to analyze the current situation, you may find it’s necessary to make some readjustments before you forge ahead.
By sticking to these five principles, managers will be well-positoined to more effectively lead and sustain change over the long haul.