What You Need to Know About Change Management
A relationship, Woody Allen once said,is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies.
You could say the same about your business. Customers change. The competition changes. The market for your products and services changes. And if you aren’t nimble enough to keep up, to keep moving – even anticipate those changes – your company could, like a shark, cease to exist.
You and your employees face minor changes constantly. You take on the new phone system. Learn how to use a different app for expenses. Deal with modifications to your office space, and adjust to the new PTO policy.
But the big changes can throw you. And you may or may not have advance warning. You can get through it, though, if you’re smart about it.
Instant, Immediate Events
They can come out of nowhere, things like natural disasters or upper management shifts. Mergers, acquisitions, and downsizing. Or even a radical change in direction in your product or service line.
Before you approach your co-managers and/or staff, take a breath. Close your office door – or in the case of a natural disaster, go to a safe place with a pad of paper or mobile device. Take in the enormity of the change and write down your initial reactions. Get your own thinking sorted out before you start to make a plan.
When you emerge to start helping your people process the “new normal,” frame it positively but honestly. Though that may sound counterintuitive, there is a sweet spot there. Your employees will be dealing with a loss of some kind, and minimizing that reality may exacerbate their feelings of being unsettled. So acknowledge the damage, but tell your staff that you’re counting on them to weather it. Remind them that there will be challenges, but also solutions.
Big Change is a Big Deal
If you have the luxury of knowing that a major change is going to occur, you’ll be huddling with a lot of people to prepare for it. If you’re a big enough company to have a human resources department or specialist, draw on their expertise. They’re trained to help managers with situations like these.
Your counterparts in other departments will be affected by the altered corporate landscape – if not directly, at least by the ripples that will move through the company. Try to anticipate these, and start strategizing with them. Work through multiple scenarios that might occur, and consider the possible solutions.
Depending on the nature of the change, it may be appropriate – and helpful – to involve junior staff. Confidentiality is critical here, as you might imagine.
Create a timeline. Try to break this fluid, changeable change process into manageable chunks. Decide whether you want to unveil this at the beginning or ease your employees into new stages as they occur.
Formulate a plan for the “press release” (the initial department-wide announcement). How you break the news will have so much impact on how it’s received.
Keep taking everyone’s temperature. Your communications and interpersonal skills are more important now than ever. Listen a lot, and don’t respond unless you have a firm, quantifiable answer. Change involves a continuing assessment of how your original plan is working. Don’t be afraid to change course when it’s not.
Continue to remind your employees – and yourself – why this is happening, what you’re doing to get through the process, and how this will make you a better/stronger/more competitive company. Consider convening occasional department meetings to assess progress, and/or encouraging small groups to do so. Use all of the networking channels that you can.
Likewise, stay in close touch with other managers, with everyone who can help to support you, and who you can support.
Try to stay positive throughout the transition. You’re likely to hit snags and have to develop workarounds. But keep reminding yourself – and your staff – that the endgame is worth the occasional stumbles. Not only have you kept the day-to-day workflow going, but you’ve done so while weathering a necessary sea change that may occasionally be painful and frustrating, but which can make you a stronger, more cohesive staff in the end.