Take These Steps To Lead Effective Change Initiative

By Charity Hughes, SPHR Sep 9, 2008
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Q: I’ve been asked to lead my first OD change initiative. What three to four key steps are critical to my/its success?

A: Congratulations. Your leaders think you have the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to lead a change initiative successfully. This is a great opportunity for you to prove your value to the organization and to help the company accomplish some specific goals. You might be feeling overwhelmed, excited and a bit anxious about what you need to do to be successful, but there are some critical steps that will help you lead the change effectively and ease some of your apprehension. These steps are:

  • Define and understand the business intent.
  • Identify stakeholders.
  • Gauge organizational readiness.
  • Create a change management plan.

Define/Understand the Business Intent

Change is the one constant in every organization, industry and market. We are often bombarded with so much change that we forget why we are doing what we are doing. A successful change initiative begins and ends with a clearly defined goal or business intent. In essence, start at the end. Create the foundation or framework for the behaviors and actions the organization desires. A change initiative is not about implementing a new system or enforcing a new policy; rather, a change initiative is about creating an environment that will enable individuals to behave in a manner that supports and embraces that new system, policy or process. You may have experienced an organizational change and thought, “They just don’t get it.” As a leader of the change initiative, be sure that you have communicated exactly what the “it” is.

Identify Stakeholders

Once there is a clear understanding of what the change initiative will accomplish, it is important to identify everyone the change will affect. Any change effort will be short-lived and deeply resented without identifying and responding to the needs of each affected stakeholder and stakeholder group. In addition, and equally important, is identifying each stakeholder’s level or span of influence within the organization as well as the external market. Developing a plan to address the needs of the stakeholders will help minimize their resistance and foster their support for the change.

Gauge Organizational Readiness

Defining the business intent for the change and identifying stakeholders will help you to assess how ready the organization is to move forward with the change effort. Some organizations are very agile and can implement change almost organically. These organizations communicate well with employees and customers, they spend time defining their business goals and the actions needed to reach those goals. Other organizations struggle with change; they reach a saturation point when change is needed for growth but another failed change effort will potentially lead to the organization’s demise. The ability to assess the organization’s readiness for the change will help a change leader pinpoint which additional change management effort is needed. The analysis should provide information about:

  • Employee knowledge of the reason for the change or understanding of the business intent.
  • Agreement/disagreement in the importance of the specific change effort.
  • Leadership’s proficiency in communicating the vision and purpose of the change.
  • Availability of communication vehicles to request and record employee feedback, suggestions and concerns.

Develop a Change Management Plan

Now that you’ve completed most of the research for the change effort, it is time to develop a strategic plan for implementing the change. The plan should include the business intent, the stakeholder and organizational analysis data, the implementation steps and how the change effort will be evaluated. As part of the overall change management plan, the change leader should develop a communication plan specifying the timing, audience, format and purpose for each message; a detailed training plan (if the change requires training); and a method to evaluate the change during the change process and post-implementation. The more prepared a change leader is, the better equipped that person will be to guide the organization through challenges and opportunities.

While this is not an all-inclusive list of what is required to lead a change initiative successfully, it is a solid foundation for ensuring some early wins. Change takes time and effort on the part of leaders as well as those affected by the change. Lastly, remember to celebrate milestones along the way. Including celebrations in the change management plan will remind the entire organization to stop and reflect on the work that’s been accomplished and to prepare for the work to come.

Charity Hughes, SPHR, is an organizational change manager for SCA, a global consumer goods and paper company. Charity’s professional experience ranges from executive coaching to change management and organizational development. Charity has worked with CareerBuilder as a resume consultant and holds an M.S. in training and organizational development from Saint Joseph’s University. In her spare time, she teaches human capital development and transformational leadership at the University of Phoenix Online. She also is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Organizational Development Special Expertise Panel.

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