5 ways to break the constraints of change management

49 per cent of businesses are unsure where to begin with change management. If this is where your business currently is, here are five ways to break the constraints of change management from Applied Business founder and MD Martin Craze.

Senior executives in most companies have traditionally had one goal for themselves and their businesses: stability. In most industries and in most companies, from the biggest to the smallest independents, increased global competition has galvanised many managements’ collective mindset on something that was previously avoided: change.

This presents many companies with an unfamiliar challenge.

A recent survey conducted by Applied Business (who are providers of Greentree software) polled 250 SMEs on whether their current business software is costing them financially. The results identified that 49 per cent of businesses are unsure where to begin with change management. If this is where your business currently is, here are five ways in which your company can break the constraints of change management. Using these guidelines as a framework, businesses can understand what to expect, how to manage their own company changes, and how to engage the entire organisation in the process.

Get it right the first time

41 per cent of businesses do not know where to start when it comes to change management.

Getting started on the right foot can be the difference between a well-executed change within the business and a complete disaster. While resistance is a normal human reaction in times of change, good change management can alleviate much of this resistance.

Change management is most effective as a strategy for engaging employees in a business change, capturing and bringing into play the positive emotion surrounding a change can prevent resistance from occurring at all. Each of these suggestions, all of which are part of a structured management approach, directly address some of the main pain-points from an employee’s point of view: this is the benefit of using a structured change management strategy from the outset of a project.

Following a few structured steps in change management activities can help:

  • Set forth a structured approach from the initiation of the project
  • Empower senior members of staff, and supervisors, as active advocates of the change
  • Communicate the need for change, and the benefits to the employee (“What’s in it for me?”)

Plan ahead for resistance

The greatest obstacle to change for businesses who do not update their systems, is employee resistance.

Unfortunately, resistance to change is a normal and expected part of any organisational shift. Sometimes even the best solution to a project problem can be met with distrust or negative reactions. Comfort with the status quo is powerful and fear of moving into an unknown future creates anxiety, even if the current state of affairs is intolerable to the majority. Project teams should acknowledge employee concerns and try to mitigate negative reactions.

Here are some likely sources of resistance to projects:

  • Employees who are highly invested in the current system
  • Those who have been successful or rewarded in the current system
  • Leaders who advocated an opposing option, i.e. Option B, when Option A was chosen
  • Employees who created the current way of working that will be changed
  • Employees who expect more work load as a result of the change

Spend some time before the project or changes come into effect to look at likely sources of resistance. Recognising where objections are likely to come from, and the likely reasons that drive this resistance, will allow your team to act on this knowledge in a proactive manner ahead of time before the negativity affects the project timescales.

Identify the root causes of resistance to change

81 per cent of businesses who are not using a CRM system say that not knowing where to start is a change management challenge they face.

Managing resistance or objections to change is ineffective when it focuses solely on the symptoms.

The symptoms of resistance are often obvious, i.e. complaining, not attending meetings, not providing information or resources when requested, or simply not adopting a change. While they are the most vocal or easily recognised, focusing on these symptoms will not provide the results you are hoping for.

The most effective way to tackle the issue is to delve deeper into what is ultimately causing the lack of change adoption. Resistance management requires that your team identifies of the root cause of the problem and takes the time to understand why a particular team or staff member is resistant, not just how that resistance is manifesting.

The primary reasons employees resist change could be:

  • Lack of awareness
  • Fear of job loss
  • Organisation’s past performance with change
  • Impact on current role
  • Lack of support from managers.

With knowledge and understanding of the root causes, management teams can prepare a case study for the need for change that is then handed to the employees most likely to be affected.

This simple action can alleviate much of the employees’ concern before it ever manifests in negative reaction.  The best way to identify the root cause is often through a personal conversation between an employee and their supervisor.

Create a formal plan to deal with resistance

Managing antipathy to change should not be a reactive process for managers, there are proactive steps that can be used to address and mitigate resistance, try these as a basis for planning your changes:

  • Phase 1: Prepare for changes

During the creation of the strategy, anticipate probable pain-points and consider tactics to manage them based on assessments of departments, employees and necessary training.  

  • Phase 2: Manage the changes

The management plan for probable objections is one of a number of suggested change management plans you can create in this phase. Having a communication plan, sponsorship roadmap, a coaching plan and a training plan all focus on shepherding individuals through their own process and addressing the possible barriers for making the transition successful.

  • Phase 3: Reinforce the benefits of change

In this final phase you should collect employee feedback to ensure there is compliance with the new workflows and processes as set out by the change.

Evaluating this feedback allows you to identify gaps in employee knowledge and offer additional training and assistance. Formally addressing issues with changes ensures that they are understood and dealt with throughout the lifecycle of the project. Ultimately, this leads to a smoother transition for the company, employees and clients.

Empower the best suited managers

The best placed resistance managers in a company are the senior leaders, managers and supervisors. The change management team, HR and outside or third-party contractors, are not the best voice of authority to deal with employee resistance. The ultimate last word on all changes and therefore resistance to those changes will come from management teams: it takes leadership within a business to manage resistance.

Senior leaders can make the best case by developing a compelling argument

of the need for change and demonstrating their commitment. Employees will watch and listen when they are weighing up if a change is ‘important’. Managers and mid-level supervisors are another key group in managing possible resistance. They are the frontline for employees who ultimately should adopt the changes being made. If these leaders are neutral or less than enthusiastic about any changes, the chances are that their teams will adopt a similar attitude. Conversely, if they are supportive, these behaviours will also be mirrored by employees.

Martin Craze is the founder and managing director of Applied Business.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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Business management