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How To Maximize Change Management Success
By Daniel Lock

Managing a change initiative through to a successful conclusion is fraught with pitfalls. Here are three key change management techniques that help make the road to your desired conclusion far easier to navigate.

Leverage the power of rational self interest

At a key level, corporate business and change management are not too far removed from the relationship between parent and child. When a parent wants their child to do something that the child really doesn’t want to do, the most effective method of successfully making the child come into line is to appeal to their self-interest. We all take this basic approach to self-interest throughout our life. Understanding this element of change management leads to three key methods to strategize using rational self-interest to successful adoption of change initiatives.

  • Bring experts on board early

    A poorly designed change initiative is a major reason for failure. When top performers, project analysts, and subject matter experts are combined to create working groups early on in the process, two clearly defined objectives will be met:

    • Early observation of impact, with feedback on potential changes obtained at early stage
    • Preparation of the process and psychological impact on people required to come to terms with the change
  • Survey your audience

    Whenever a major change is considered you should survey your end users. A survey will initiate the transition process and capture unidentified pitfalls and feelings. Experience shows that such surveys are best done by a third party, with anonymous feedback ensuring honest feedback.

  • Spend time at the coal face

    If you want to know exactly what the change will mean to your people, then go to the coalface and see its impact for yourself. This also has the positive aspect of showing filed staff that their opinions are valued and sought after. You’ll soon find yourself posing questions such as ‘will this change work?’ and ‘what, if any, is the negative impact of this initiative?’

Reduce ambiguity

It is easy to sign up for an ideal end position of ‘increased productivity’ or a ‘more open innovative culture’, for example. But in coming to this ideal state, there will be periods of ambiguity along the way. These periods are likely to cause frustration, worries, and fear among employees affected. The result of such emotional stress can even lead to top performers fleeing for newer pastures.

To combat high ambiguity, it’s necessary to be more transparent, especially with frontline staff. Explanation of processes and the rationale for change is only part of the way to combat such ambiguity issues. You should also ensure there is a mechanism for concerns and issues to be raised and discussed. This strategy alone will ensure a greater level of respect for you and the project, encouraging your people to support the change. No longer will your people say “I’m all for increasing productivity, but I just don’t have the time”, or “All these projects start off with a bang and then fizzle out.”

Remember that ambiguity is likely to surface in the following areas:

  • Situational
    • Vague issues and problems
    • Unreliable data / conflicting information
  • Scope

    • Too many goals that compete with each other
    • Lack of clarity on how success will be measured
    • Not enough resources and time to properly tackle the goal
  • Relationships

    • Unclear hierarchy
    • Unclear roles and responsibilities
    • Politicking and favoritism
  • Processes

    • Finger pointing; accusations and blame instead of cause
    • Key personnel changing too often
    • Cause and effect poorly understood

Give support for people to let go

Changing behaviors can be a traumatic process for many people, and you’ll need to provide support structures to avoid fundamental attribution error. You’ll need to lead the way, engage influential people as exemplars, but also encourage people to let go. Sometimes more than encouragement will be required.

  • Force people to let go

    We need to let go to reach out. We need to stop holding on so tight. We need to create the space so the new change can be allowed to grow and become comfortable. You can encourage your employees to do the same. Use these three techniques to encourage people to move with the momentum of change:

    • The cut off
      • At some stage the old system needs to be switched off
    • The move forward

      • The new process is taken on: ‘we will no longer accept information via emails’
    • The incentive

      • New benefits for the first people to embrace the change and new systems / processes

    There will be times when you need to pry people’s fingers away from the thing they are holding onto for dear life. Once you do, you’ll see them roll with the momentum of the future.

Organizational change is tough. Most likely you are dealing with some kind of organizational change right now. Leverage the three key change management techniques to enable front line adoption.

Daniel Lock is the principal of Daniel Lock Consulting Group, a firm specializing in helping leadership to innovate to more rapidly achieve individual and organizational goals. You can connect with Daniel via Twitter.

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