Change management is all of the practices involved in preparing for, equipping our teams for, and supporting people during times of major changes.
Implementing major changes without a change management plan is asking for trouble.
Some examples of changes that benefit from change management include mergers and acquisitions, management structure changes, technology changes, and practical changes, such as moving to a new location.
Implementation of these changes may seem straightforward and have defined steps associated with it, but the fact is, change is hard. People may complain about the slow software they currently use, but changing to a new, better system still presents challenges.
Common hurdles organizations encounter during times of change include stretched resources, competing priorities, climbing of learning curves, and simple fatigue. That’s why so many organizations create change management teams. And senior leadership can have a major impact on the effectiveness of change management.
The Importance of Executive Buy-In During Times of Change
Ideally, everyone in the organization should be enthusiastic about change, but that’s not always the case. Senior leadership can offer reassurance about the necessity of change and show team members that everyone is in it together. Leadership that retreats behind closed doors during times of change doesn’t inspire confidence and can increase frustration when people experience legitimate problems that often come up during major changes.
Even in organizations with carefully designed change management teams, the buy-in of executives is critical. When the change management team believes that senior leadership doesn’t really care, they’re not likely to give their best efforts or go the extra mile to ensure change goes smoothly.
What People Want from Leadership During Change
People need a clear vision of what the post-change organization will be if they’re going to undergo the upheaval of change with enthusiasm. They don’t just need to know that the new software suite will be “better,” but they need to know specifics: “This should cut down on the time needed to process payroll by 40%,” or “The new office building will put Engineering and Design on the same floor, so they can communicate more easily.”
People affected by change don’t just need to know the future will be “better,” they need to know precisely how it will be better.
People also want accountability during change. If leaders say they’ll be provided with high-quality training on the new system, they have to deliver. People also want their leaders to be accessible. Sometimes unforeseen problems emerge, and leadership must step up, understand the problem, and take action.
Finally, people want alignment during times of change. They want to know that everyone is pulling in the same direction and pursuing the same goals. Sure, some people will be more change-resistant than others, but on the whole, the entire organization should be headed in the same direction.
Ensuring Change Accomplishes What It Should
Ensuring that change does get the results expected of it requires that executives and other top leaders demonstrate the qualities they should always demonstrate, such as honesty, trustworthiness, transparency, and good communication. But they must do so with an eye on the change process and how it is progressing.
While people closer to the action should be checking off the myriad tasks required during a major change, senior leadership must also pay attention to what is happening and offer assistance where appropriate. Leadership must also solicit, listen to, and act upon feedback. If there are real problems, leaders must not ignore them or assume they’ll somehow solve themselves. Even if problems do resolve themselves, leadership that has “checked out” of the change management process will only build resentment.
Strong leadership is never more necessary than during times of major change within an organization. Even if the leader’s role is less hands-on, their vision, energy, and tracking of change resonate throughout the organization.
Many of the qualities I work on with my executive coaching clients, such as transparency, accessibility, and excellent communication are the exact qualities that are needed for successful change management. And when senior leadership genuinely buys into major changes and participates, those further down the hierarchy are likelier to do their part in change management with commitment.
I encourage leaders at all levels to check out my books . Those facing organizational changes may particularly benefit from reading Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention.