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Change Management Process: Expectation vs. Reality

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Published December 11, 2023

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Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Picture of Jessica Wishart

Jessica Wishart
Senior Product Manager at Rhythm Systems

You’ve done all the research. You’ve compiled a spreadsheet full of requirements, Googled until your Organizational change managementeyes crossed, talked to sales reps, done demos and free trials, worked out a budget, created the business case, made recommendations to your team, and you are ready to pull the trigger on a new software solution. The decision has been made, so the hard part is done, right? Wrong!

The reality is that rolling out a new system, tool, or discipline in your business can be a headache. Even if it will help your team succeed in the long run and save them lots of time, change is hard. Organizational change management is not an overnight process. New habits take time, and the temptation is always there to fall back on what’s familiar—those well-worn neural pathways have a comforting draw. According to an article in Forbes, "For the brain to rewire itself, it requires sustained practice of a new behavior..." Sustained practice takes discipline—that's not easy. As a leader, you must take the long view and find ways to bring the rest of the organization along. Effective change management requires a leader to navigate all four stages during the change management process.

There are four stages we all go through when we deal with an organizational change:

  1. Denial. Initially, we might think the change won’t impact us or we can get away with doing things the way we’ve always done them. That “this can’t really be happening feeling” is familiar to us all.
  2. Resistance. Once the initial shock wears off and it sinks in that change is really coming, we typically experience self-doubt, frustration, and uncertainty. This goes back to those hard-wired neural pathways I mentioned before.
  3. Exploration. If we can get past resistance, we move into a phase of planning in which we are focused on the future and developing a positive vision for the change.
  4. Commitment. Putting that plan into place will lead to confidence, new skills and goals, and a renewed identity. The neural pathways are rebuilt, and the team returns to a state of equilibrium.

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It’s important to note that people go through these stages at their own speed, which isn’t always linear. You may dabble in exploration and go back to denial. “It would be great if we can manage all of our tasks in one system…but I can’t believe we are really going to stop using this tool that I’ve put five years of data into!”

Sometimes, people get stuck in the early stages and don’t make it through to Commitment. Think of all the wasted time, energy and effort of failing to launch a new system successfully. You don’t want to roll out a new tool half-heartedly only to face the facts that it wasn’t adopted—now you are back to square one, researching alternatives and launching yet another new system because the other one “didn’t work.” If you don’t roll it out properly and get the team to Commitment, this new one won’t “work” either.

In order to be successful with a change initiative, you have to have all of these elements in place:

  1. Vision. Leadership teams must clearly understand why the change is necessary and what the future state will look like with all its benefits once the process is complete. There are three why’s you need to address to establish a common purpose for the change: why is this important to the company (connect to the Core Purpose and strategy), why is it important to our team (connect to the goals of the team), and why is it important to me (connect to the benefits for the individual people involved).
  2. Skills. Ensure your plan for rolling out the new system or tool includes adequate training to help everyone learn the new skills they will need to be successful. Invest in training to minimize anxiety as team members struggle to learn new habits.
  3. Incentive. If you’ve done a good job communicating the vision and the three why's, the team should be self-motivated to change. Incentivize small steps in the right direction by putting markers out along the way and stopping to celebrate those small wins. This will help you avoid false starts and keep the momentum going.Organizational change management
  4. Resources. In addition to training to support new skills, don’t skimp on providing other resources the team needs to adopt change successfully. There’s nothing more frustrating than buying into the vision, learning new skills, and being excited for the change only to find out that your department isn’t going to have access to the full platform, for example.
  5. Action Plan. In order for to implement a successful change management initiative, you have to have a plan. Break your change initiative down into manageable goals, clarify expectations around who owns those goals and what success looks like for each, and communicate and align all the stakeholders around the plan. Track progress toward your goals each week.

Communication with your team is key to successful implementation. You need to communicate clearly and often and remember that communication is a two-way street. You have to do more than talk; you also have to listen. Involve your team members, even early in the decision-making process, and get their feedback and input. According to a communication consultant's Harvard Business Review article, “I’ve observed the same thing time and time again: how information is communicated to employees during a change matters more than what information is communicated. A lack of audience empathy when conveying news about an organizational transformation can cause it to fail.” Consider how your team is feeling and where they might be in the four stages of change in order to bring them along successfully.

Leading your team to implement a new process or tool successfully takes careful thought and well-planned execution for continuous improvement in your organization. What are your best change management strategies and tips?

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Here are additional resources to check out:

The CEOs Strategy-Execution Gap...And How To Fix It

Choose Your 3 Year Strategic Growth Initiatives Wisely With This 4 Step Process

5 Steps to Getting Started on 3 Year Strategic Plans with Winning Moves

Have You Validated Your 3 Year Strategic Plan?

Strong 3 Year Strategic Plans to Grow Revenue and Stay Competitive

Don't Confuse Strategic Thinking And Strategy Execution Plans

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