Four steps toward an effective change management strategy

Kelly Drinkwine, vice-president of communication strategy at Kindle Communications, outlines four best practices for managing change at your organization

1May

We are creatures of habit, naturally resistant to change. But our world is moving and evolving at faster speeds than ever, and we must stay one step ahead to remain competitive and relevant.

Change management can present both risk and opportunity. When you plan effectively, you mitigate the former and maximize the latter – all while enabling greater productivity (at best) and minimizing distraction (at worst). When you do not, your employees experience a fear of the unknown, likely leading to a large turnover just as you are attempting to implement new processes. A good change management strategy can be the difference between further success and absolute failure.

Change needs to be managed and maintained, rather than left to its devices. Without an effective process in place, it is too easy to lose sight of why the shift is happening.

Many types of change can affect an enterprise, whether it is a shift in leadership, structure or operations. No matter the type of change your organization faces, use the following key components of a change management strategy to lead and execute with confidence.

Clarify

According to McKinsey & Co., 70% of mergers fail because they are poorly planned, have not targeted the right audience or take too long to implement. Regardless of whether your change is driven by a merger, acquisition, disposition or any number of reasons, your change management strategy will never be a one-size-fits-all approach.

When facing change, as with any business objective, you must always start by asking yourself a few questions: What does success look like? How will it be measured? What do you want your audience to know, do, or feel differently?

The answers to these questions will help you identify your stakeholders and codify your vision. Then, you can focus on each stakeholder group: How will they feel about the change? How will their day-to-day activities and expectations be affected?

Depending on your organization's model, you will also need to take into consideration the location of your stakeholders. Where do they spend their time? Are they in the office or out in the field? Do they rely on email or prefer a more engaging approach?

Effective change management is impossible without the assessment and strategic use of channels and platforms. Conducting a communication audit upfront will help you uncover the opportunities to close gaps and gain traction and buy-in from the beginning. When you understand your objectives and audience, you have the insights you need in order to develop tailored messages that will resonate.

Synthesize

Some types of change management strategies may be simple and (seemingly) straightforward, while others might be more complex and require the input and approval of multiple decision makers. Gallup research found that just 22% of employees feel their organization's leadership has a clear direction for the company.

Leadership communication platforms can be helpful tools to mitigate this trend. They can be developed for each individual leader to capture the specific messaging around their vision and can be pulled into a broader message map to ensure that all leader messages are aligned, complementary and additive to the stakeholder's experience. While platforms are essential to successful change management, they can also be helpful in times of issue and crisis management.

With messaging aligned, help ensure continued successful collaboration by scheduling inclusive alignment meetings across work streams on a regular basis.

Prioritize

Your organization's message and its delivery of that message set the tone for the change your enterprise seeks. Authenticity and transparency are non-negotiable. While business jargon may keep some busy with endless corporate fodder such as "strategic reorganization" or "re-imagineering tomorrow", your people see right through it.

But the number of options available for driving awareness and gaining buy-in can be overwhelming. Through your communication audit, you identified the platforms and channels that resonate most with your audiences. Now is your opportunity to put that analysis to work: How will platform, cadence, and tone vary by stakeholder group? How will you sustain engagement?

The right change management methodology will encourage you to create a strategic narrative to anchor your cross-functional teams. This longer-form narrative summarizes where your organization has been, where it is today, what its aspirations are and the "why" behind it all. These truths will serve your organization beyond the change of today and will provide all parties with the foundation they need to embrace the reason for change and transformation.

Amplify

Think about the appropriate voice for your change. It is easy to default to leadership ­– and that might be the right decision – but give yourself the freedom to think about the voices your people need to hear. What will give them the confidence and reassurance they need in order to adapt? What will reinforce the trust and focus required to evolve? Depending on the change at hand, the message might be best delivered from a mix of leadership and their peers.

Find opportunities for face-to-face interactions early and often. These can be a mix of live town halls, small group meetings or video conferences. While each speaker should have a speech or, at the very least, talking points prepared for reference, this message of change must be delivered in an approachable tone. Then, seek feedback through live Q&A sessions and polling. Take your team's temperature throughout the process so you can determine where they need a bit more support.

Change is complex. It takes time. Your change management strategy should be thoughtful and forthcoming every step of the way. Your people will expect and respect that authenticity, and chances are good that they will happily make the journey with you.

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