No business can succeed by standing still. Particularly in today’s ever-more interconnected, digitally-driven business world, organisations large and small are all under pressure to become agile – to be flexible and adapt, adopting new technologies, disciplines and tackling new markets to stay profitable. Because of this, it is vital for organisations to respond well to change.
Although change management is a staple of business education, leadership training and organisational development, in reality, such periods naturally bring a high level of uncertainty to employees and employers alike. It can be difficult for business leaders to know how to effectively help their employees to navigate through periods of transition.
So, what actions should a business leader take when wide-scale changes inevitably occur within their organisations? In fact, there is no single failsafe solution. It could be said that effective change management is like making of a cocktail; there are a set list of ingredients, that is, a number of ways to navigate the change, but also many different ways they can be mixed to suit the organisation’s tastes. Leaders must decide on the appropriate measure of each ingredient, in order to ensure a smooth transition.
In my research, I identified seven core ingredients which, when combined, create a robust framework for business leaders to follow, which ensures change is navigated in an effective way:
Understanding employees concerns and emotional state
Leaders must become aware of how their employees are feeling regarding the impending change they face. They should play an important part in helping individuals come to terms with emotional implications and anticipate how and when they may occur. It is essential to do this if leaders are to effectively coach staff through the change.
Establishing a process of change
A leader’s first focus is often on defining the ‘What’ aspect of change and it is said that 90% of time and resources are ploughed into understanding what the end goal will be. However, in order for the change to proceed successfully, emphasis also needs to be paid to the ‘How’ of the change, therefore leaders must also dedicate time to developing a process of how the change will occur, in order to ensure a smooth transition.
Generic processes of change state that leaders should create a sense of urgency within the team about the need to change. Part of this is explaining the ‘Why’ aspect of the change – that is, bosses must explain the change to staff in a rational, but compelling way. Another part of this is appealing to employee’s hearts to ensure that they are both rationally and emotionally attracted to the change.
Identifying the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me)
Leaders should also examine the ‘What’ aspect of the change, in relation to employees’ individual day-to-day lives. Some may see themselves as ‘victims’ of the change and, in this event, leaders should be well-equipped to ensure such employees understand how proposed changes will affect them, and outline the benefits and advantages to be gained at the individual – not just company-wide – level. Leaders should remember that staff are often content in their routines and change at any level can disrupt this, so every effort should be made to be sensitive.
The proposed benefits of change must be viewed as greater than the pain of change; therefore, leaders should ensure these individuals understand the (often hidden) benefits, as well as the (usually obvious) disadvantages of the changes. Further, the WIIFM must also be greater than the ‘’Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement’’ (BATNA), which includes saying yes to a change and doing nothing.
Deciding upon a style of change
When negotiating change, leaders should always bear in mind the culture of the organisation, assess whether the style of the changes they seek to make are compatible with the organisation, and seek to keep this consistent throughout, to provide some comfort and stability for employees in a time of transition.
Conversely, effecting a dramatic shift in style can be used to “shake up” an organisation in risk of becoming stagnant. However, this too must keep to a consistent style to help employees keep up.
Agreement from employees
Employers must bear in mind that asking for change with employees is a request. Therefore, regardless of an employee’s position in your organisation, you must make the request and then consider any negotiations employees may wish to raise. It is important to remember that, done properly, this negotiation can be carried out to ensure a win/win situation for both parties.
While the above ingredients are essential, the following two can be added as and when necessary. For best results however, they should be added in equal measure.
Change entails making some difficult choices, especially regarding people. Some may have mixed feelings regarding the change, and in this event, it must be made clear that the behavioural choices individuals make to advance or delay change will have ramifications. Leaders may not be involved heavily with employees on a day to day basis, making it difficult for them to gauge sincerity. In an event where leaders have become isolated, they should rely on the advice of trusted counsel, department heads, team leaders and others more connected with employee sentiment.
Genuine concern for others
To secure long-term success for your organisation, it is essential that your people feel that they are cared for, both as a means to an organizational end and as unique human beings. Your concern for your staff must be shown through both words and actions.
Roger Hallowell is the Academic Director of programs for managers and executives in the fields of strategy, strategy implementation and change management, and leadership, and is Academic Director of ‘’Leading Strategies for Outstanding Performance’’ for HEC Paris Executive Education.