If change is typically challenging, how are organizations adapting to changes as tectonic as those we have experienced in the last three years? Or even more, how can organizational changes be driven in a new corporate world that we have not yet fully adapted to? The answer is where it has always been in managing the human aspect of change.
There is a diversity of methodologies and processes of change management, and without going into the benefits of each one, we seek to point out which muscles organizations must strengthen before and during any change process, regardless of the selected methodology.
During moments of transition (whether forced by the environment or by the internal motivation of the organization), some of the challenges that we most frequently find in our clients are:
- The lack of clarity of all staff about the vision, direction, or new way of working leads to resistance or stagnation of the transition
- The lack of alignment between leaders and other key groups generates a lack of coordination and efforts in different directions.
- The lack of ability to handle new priorities that compete with the day-to-day ends up overwhelming, especially for the most competent and committed employees.
Failure to address these challenges increases the chances of failure, the cost of which is a more competitive and agile world is increasingly challenging to afford.
Our experience has helped us identify some critical factors to address these challenges successfully. This insight aims to share the muscles that organizations must strengthen before and during any transition (regardless of the change methodology) to integrate the human side of change and minimize challenges considering this new reality.
What muscles must organizations strengthen to effectively manage the human side of change in this new reality?
By communication, we mean all those actions aimed at ensuring the flow of information and feedback to allow each member of the organization (leaders, managers, and collaborators) to know what is expected of him/her and adjust their behavior based on that expectation. We are not only referring to the typical “cascading” that some companies practice but also to the need to generate dialogues in which information travels in both directions and a balanced manner.
These dialogues should enable leaders to make decisions that consider the expectations of their customers and employees. These conversations (which can take different forms) should ensure clarity for everyone involved and minimize the uncertainty that usually paralyzes people in adopting the new.
This practice contributes to keeping those impacted by the transformation well-informed and allows affected people to give their opinion from their unique perspective and offer recommendations to maximize opportunities for success; we often observe that these bottom-up perspectives and recommendations are leaders’ blind spots.
Many mechanisms can be used, either vertically or horizontally. For example, organizations can use one-on-one (1:1) sessions, team meetings, and town halls as direct means of providing information and receiving it.
In addition, they can use surveys and interviews to gauge the climate within the work environment or to determine how ready the organization is for the change. At the same time, tools such as emails, videos, and newsletters function as mechanisms to explain the transition’s details and react or respond to findings arising from these listening mechanisms.
There is no need to create new meetings or instances for these purposes. Sometimes it is enough to adjust the mindset of the existing forums. Therefore, identifying risks, proposals, and initiatives by employees becomes routine, and the criteria of leaders are enriched.
To strengthen this muscle, it is also important to include those detractors who resist reforms since, on the one hand, they are likely to help us identify new elements of risk. On the other, listening to their recommendations makes them part of the solution.
Finally, this communication understood as dialogues, allows people to be put on the same page and lays the foundations to strengthen the next essential muscle for this process: coalitions.
Coalitions are built around a shared vision forged through dialogue and debate. Its main function is to establish agreements and show a united and consistent front against the decisions made, whether visions, initiatives, or support for change processes. The most natural coalitions or alliances occur within the same work teams, but there are also opportunities for them to be generated between people from different teams. The latter type of alliance has enormous power because it includes different points of view.
Some occur naturally, but leadership should encourage the formation of new alliances around the vision, mainly when change challenges arise. For example, a manufacturing plant was on its initiative; employees decide to get together to identify actions to minimize incidents or implement incremental improvements in their processes. In this case, management encourages initiative, provides resources, and rewards successful results, or at least does not hinder the natural course of this alliance and its purpose.
Given these scenarios, the first coalition that must be established occurs among leaders at the highest levels of the organization. The degree of alignment and commitment to a purpose or a “why” significantly influences the speed and quality of the results and the agility of the decision-making and management processes along the way. The strength of the alliance between the leadership becomes evident as they enact the vision, promoting a forward movement for their teams and redirecting when necessary.
Depending on the magnitude of the transformation sought, it is key to create a type of coalition known as a steering committee from which all governance emerges. This is the ultimate decision-making body responsible for ensuring a path to achieve a transformation, which is why it is so important that debates and agreements take place in this forum. Downstream in the organization, another alliance, at the level of managers and supervisors, is the one that allows in practice to mobilize the base of the organization effectively. Therefore, providing management with clarity, direction and empowerment is critical to making changes happen.
To define how to make the goal a reality, it is also crucial to identify a team of champions (a group of employees committed to the organization and change). These individuals or groups are those who have gained the trust of their peers, either by their performance, experience, or influence. Maintaining a constant dialogue with the champions allows the continuous adjustment of strategies and methodologies to ensure the relevance of the action plan. At the same time, building alliances with naysayers (as difficult as it may be) helps leaders understand what drives and worries them to assign roles where their sense of risk can be capitalized.
Finally, there are risks of implementing changes when teams are dispersed: it is more challenging to generate dialogues and agreements. Therefore, promoting and incentivizing coalitions is even more critical in this new way of working. To this end, leaders can encourage the creation of mixed or interdisciplinary teams by assigning them challenges that allow the definition of initiatives that support the transition. This article, for example, was prepared by an alliance of consultants who belong to different teams but with a common interest in organizational issues.
This commitment is born because of dialogues within and between coalitions that translate into the promise of executing the additional tasks that come with the continuous implementation of change. There are organizations that prefer to hire external resources (consultants or contractors) dedicated to translating vision into action, and others choose to absorb this additional burden internally. If this is the case, it is imperative to increase your organization’s capacity or stop doing what competes and is of lower priority.
Increasing capacity means hiring more people to be able to manage the additional burden of change, plus day-to-day activities. The support expected of these people must be discussed and defined.
However, given the silent resignations and the possibility of remote work, the scarcity and, therefore, competition for talent among organizations is exacerbated , so increasing capacity is not always an alternative; In this case, it is appropriate to carry out a dialogue exercise to prioritize and agree on those initiatives that add the greatest value to the new vision. There are tools to measure and visualize the value and urgency of each initiative, such as the impact versus effort matrix, and Pareto analysis (which suggests addressing 20% of the causes, which generally cause 80% of the consequences), among others.
Regardless of the group of individuals on whom the necessary additional effort falls, accountability mechanisms are required to monitor not only the progress of the implementation of initiatives but also to measure if they are yielding the expected results. It is essential to transcend from measuring compliance to measuring impact. It is imperative to socialize these results through more dialogue, thus promoting the strengthening or creation of new coalitions (if necessary) and the evaluation of commitments on the level of effort required for the success of transformations.
Adopting a methodology to manage the human side of reforms is important. Before any strategy is decided, it is essential to ensure robust and two-way communication, which allows decisions to be made with sufficient information and adjust behaviors with clear expectations. These dialogues around a shared vision should lead (naturally or encouraged) to forming coalitions to achieve and sustain transformation. At the same time, these two actions must ensure commitments around the efforts needed to balance the burden and capacity to achieve the vision. This reduces friction, time, and costs and maintains an adequate climate for the benefit of people and organizational results.
If your organization is going through a transformation, answer three questions:
- Are they open to dialogues with people impacted by the readjustments?
- How oriented are you towards collaboration and the formation of multiple alliances?
- How committed are you to investing efforts in implementing change?
In V2A, we have successfully helped several clients in their change management efforts. Visit our page on organizational development practice for more information https://v2aconsulting.com/organization/.
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