Leading change in the real world

Change Management

Imagine leading change, or a leader of change, and you might think of a powerful, heroic figure – an enabler of change for the greater good, leading the masses up the great hill of change over the top and into the promised land of plenty. For anyone who has experience of leading change, you might think of a different image more grounded in reality.

Because for all those people who may follow you up and over the hill, the majority will not move until they know exactly what is over the hill and why it is perhaps this promised land you talk about. How long will it take, why do we have to go there, what will be different, what will be better, why will it be better – for me, for everyone? And even once you have set off, the vision of “leading” falls away as you have to go back and deal with those who have slowed down or stopped, who are finding the hill harder than they thought or have become distracted. To find those who have slowly dropped off the back of the group into the distance, so they can turn around without being noticed and go back to where they came from.

Each situation will of course have its own specifics and requirements in order to manage change successfully – due to the nature of the particular industry, organisation, initiative, technology etc. There are also of course proven practices that have been built up through the collective experiences of managing change, so adopting and adapting these practices should provide the platform for successfully leading and managing change.

Good practices

Get people on-side

Start with your “customers”, the people who will be impacted by any new product/initiative/change – what are their triggers, what is going to make them care? Take some time to engage with your customers to build this understanding, to build relations and knowledge of how the different types of customers should be handled – from the enthusiastic ones likely to be early adopters, to the laggards who need more convincing.
With this understanding, you are better equipped to know what will get their attention and interest in the change. The earlier you can engage and involve people in the process, the quicker they are likely to adapt and adopt the change.

Explain the advantages and benefits of the change, why it is happening and why it will be good for them – address “what’s in it for me?” Attract people to the change by clearly showing the overall aim of the business, so they understand how their actions impact this and why processes need to change.

Remember why this is happening

Benefits management can sometimes get overlooked or be difficult to execute, for example in a fast growing organisation where things move on very quickly. Effective benefits management, where the benefits are defined and agreed up-front and then monitored throughout, forms part of successful change management. It can also highlight where certain change initiatives should be changed or stopped, as the benefits are no longer achievable or a priority for the organisation.

Show the future

Seek champions and sponsors for the change and get them enthused to evangelise. Use the early adopters you singled out, get them excited about the change and consider using them in “show and tell” prototypes.
A current example of a major driver and disrupter of change is digitalisation, although some industries and organisations are slow to adopt and adapt to change, which can be a difficult conflict for IT to manage. Consider using scenario planning (“what ifs”) and stories or war gaming to help paint the picture and drive the pace. Look for similar examples of change in similar business models (not necessarily from the same industry) to learn from and apply to your organisation.
No matter what the attitude to change is for an organisation, it can be a good idea to demonstrate the concept, show the benefits, and build prototypes so people can see it, feel it, assess it and understand it for themselves.

Keep executives and sponsors engaged

Within the “people” element of change management are the role and behaviours of the sponsors and executives, who need to play their part and should be made aware of their role and the expectations of them. Effective sponsorship and sponsor behaviour needs to be in place from start to finish, for example in terms of reviewing the progress reports on the change initiative, helping drive continuous improvement and being accountable for the benefits.

Have a solid foundation

Running threads throughout change management also include good communication, training and monitoring of moral, underpinned by a structured, practical change management methodology.

Embracing change

As they say, “change is constant” although that does not mean it is easy or always well managed. As can be seen from collective experience, a big and important part of successful change management relates to people – rather than doing it because they feel they have to, they need to care about the change, buy into it and embrace it.

About the author

Richard Jefferies has 20 years experience in the IT industry, working with senior leaders across multiple industries. He chairs 3gamma’s “Leaders of Change Forum” in the UK.


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