“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” – Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher and writer in the 6th century BC
Initiating and managing change is the responsibility of leaders, but change is complex, challenging and can lead to conflict. The way to help minimise these challenges is to understand what good practice in change management looks like.
Everyone will have experienced change in some capacity before and drawing on this experience, whether and why it was positive or negative, can be beneficial. Change done well can have a positive impact on a business and individuals, change done badly can have an impact that is crushing. Either way change will have a major impact on a business and the people within it.
The first question to address is: what are you wanting or needing to change? To identify this you may wish to revisit your business goals. You also need to think through why change is needed? Understanding the drivers of change is important: are they internal, external or a combination? Is it about business survival, increasing productivity or leveraging new opportunities? What is the scope, scale, expected impacts and the desired outcomes of your proposed change? What does success look like, both for the business and individuals within it?
The Emotions of Change
Every person will react individually to change. The Kübler-Ross Change Curve (below), as adapted for business, can be used to predict how performance is likely to be affected by the announcement and subsequent implementation of significant change.
Different people will move through the emotions at different rates and some may experience the emotions in different orders, or not at all. Knowing where an individual, team or larger group is on the curve will help decide how and when to communicate information, what level of support someone or a team requires, and when best to implement final changes.
There can be resistance to change, but this can be minimised by clearly communicating the reasons driving the change, its purpose, benefits and the desired outcomes. If you find this occurring, recruit some advocates who can help communicate the positive intentions of your intended change. Some people will take longer than others to process intended change. If someone has had a particularly bad experience of change, open a genuine two-way dialogue so you can help allay their fears and anxieties.
How to Manage Change
There are many models for leading and managing change. One that will help you plan, lead and manage individual, team or whole business change is John Kotter’s 8-step model which focuses on specific activities that a leader should do to enhance the probability of success in implementing change.
Kotter’s model will help you as a leader transform your business and overcome resistance to change. Successful change is challenging and hard work and may take you out of your own comfort zone.
When you plan carefully and build the proper foundation, implementing change can be much easier, enable you to manage the risks, and overall, improve your chances of success.
From experience, successful change occurs when there is commitment, a sense of urgency or momentum, good stakeholder engagement, openness, a clear vision, good and clear communication, strong leadership and a well-executed plan. Do not be too impatient too soon. Kotter’s model recognises each of these.
In practical terms, identify who is leading the change project and the time period for it. Then you can set out the following:
- Overall purpose and aims of the project i.e. what you want to achieve
- Benefits of the project to the business i.e. the reasons why you are undertaking it
- Who will be involved in the project i.e. the names and roles of individuals or partners
- Key steps and actions i.e. what each are, who is responsible and by when
- Communication plan i.e. your vision, project details, who you are communicating to, when and how
- How you will measure success
- What are the quick wins?
- How you will make the change “stick”
- What are the key challenges, risks and areas of resistance; how will you then mitigate these?
Finally, remember to review and measure progress regularly against your plan and modify it if needed. Once complete, think about what went well and what you would do differently – for next time!
This article originally appeared in the 2021 Oxford Innovation Business Resource Manual. This 60-page resource, full of articles covering leadership, crisis management, marketing, strategy and more, is available in full to all Oxford Innovation Cornwall clients.
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