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Change is constant in most organizations—and it is an essential component of growth. Typically, when organizations undergo change, leaders tend to focus on the procedural steps they must take, but often ignore the human component of change: whether that means steering a team toward a new vision, transforming the corporate culture, or encouraging learning and growth.
Whether your organization is embarking on a merger or acquisition, adjusting its operations or marketing new services, employees will need to think and behave differently to accommodate the new direction. It’s important to remember that employees are only human, and some may not adapt easily to new situations. It’s natural for them to feel frustrated and to demonstrate some level of resistance. A good leader can address employees’ concerns by giving them some control over the change.
To guide your team through a successful transformation, consider these actions:
Start with a vision. You need a common vision on how your team will work together and with stakeholders to accomplish the change. With a stated vision, you’ll eliminate any employee or stakeholder confusion over how they will adapt. Make this vision your priority. For instance, if the company is embracing sustainability for the first time, the vision may be: “We want to be a model for manufacturing widgets in a manner that reduces the company’s carbon footprint without adding production costs.” Because your team should stay focused on this vision, try to avoid starting other initiatives at the same time.
Develop a strategy. After creating a vision, consult with your team about how to achieve it. They and other stakeholders need to understand what roles they play in fulfilling the vision. Understand who your stakeholders are and what they need. Some questions you need to answer include:
Be a champion of change. Successful change requires dynamic role models. Employees need to know that their leader is personally committed to the success of the change. Practice this by removing barriers, providing resources, ensuring learning, partnering with stakeholders, supporting employees through change, measuring progress and quickly addressing resistance.
Communicate early and often. Middle and front-line leaders should communicate with employees about the change frequently and consistently. Everyone affected by the change needs to know what it entails, why and how it is happening, and what’s in it for them. Ask employees what they think about the change and how they’re feeling. They will talk if you listen.
Get in front of problems. Concern is a normal response to change. Create a safe environment and a mechanism that allows employees to air issues and problems before the problem escalates. Respond fairly and reasonably, regardless of anyone’s role or level in the organization. Keep in mind that what you consider a small issue may be a large concern for the person affected.
If there is profound resistance to the change, address the situation head-on, or you may eventually be handling larger problems such as turnover, poor performance and low morale—all of which can sabotage the change.
Organizational change is a complex process that requires time, patience and dedication. If you lead and engage employees through the change, you are more likely to achieve sustainable success.
Rachel Bangasser is an organizational change leader at the state government level and holds a doctorate in organization development.
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