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Managing Change: 5 Critical Questions Leaders Must Answer
By Richard Lepsinger

Companies that try to implement a significant change are successful only about three times out of 10. Just let that statistic sink in for a moment.

As a leader managing change, it’s clear the odds aren’t in your favor. We say this not to discourage you, but because it’s important to know what you’re up against. Once you acknowledge the difficulties, you can begin to address them so your initiative becomes one of the 30 percent that do succeed.

One of the biggest challenges leaders face in managing change is dealing with the uncertainty it produces.

The conventional wisdom is that many changes fail because of employee resistance. Yet we found that this is often not the case. Our recent survey found that most employees understand that their organization needs to change in order to remain competitive and believe people can overcome their fear of change. It seems to be less about resistance and more about uncertainty that derails change initiatives. Employees and even managers are reluctant to commit because they fear the unknowns. Leaders can help the rest of your workforce overcome this by clearly communicating and responding to concerns throughout the process.

Here are five critical questions you need to answer as a leader to build your team’s confidence before, during and after the transition.

  1. Why is this change necessary?

    Most of us are naturally creatures of habit. Before your team members can begin to accept any change, they need to see the bigger picture. Be sure you have clearly articulated what your company aims to accomplish on the larger scale so all employees understand why it’s so important.

  2. What will each person be expected to do?

    Taking the time to go beyond communicating the objectives of the change and clearly defining the specific behaviors people will need to stop, start and continue to do will ease your staff’s concerns. This shouldn’t be a one-time discussion, but an ongoing conversation that evolves as new challenges or actions are identified.

  3. Will we be able to do it?

    Change initiatives often fail because leaders fail to allocate appropriate resources to accomplish them, including funding and staff. When one new program after another is implemented, employees are left to decide which is more important when they only have the time or resources to complete one of them.

    If the change will require an extra two hours of an employee’s time each week, be sure to account for this. You’ll need to determine what needs to be cut or done more efficiently to make up for the time this change requires.

  4. How will we manage the transition?

    It’s important to identify key checkpoints and build in transition periods for them to occur. If a new department manager is taking the reins in two months as part of the change, be sure you’ve built in time for that person to meet with his or her predecessor and other key internal stakeholders and customers. In addition, be sure to anticipate potential challenges (such as the new manager needing more time than expected to relocate) and have a plan in place to address them.

  5. Where Are We In the Process?

    Maintaining transparency is key to managing any change. Develop a shared project schedule all employees can access, and designate someone to keep it up to date. Plan regular meetings to discuss progress and upcoming deadlines, and ask your staff for feedback. Are they struggling in a particular area or worried about missing a deadline due to factors that may be outside their control?

    Commit to staying on track, but build some flexibility into your project schedule so you can make adjustments as needed.

Taking the time to address these questions will keep the lines of communication open and reassure everyone you’re heading in the right direction.

Richard Lepsinger is President of OnPoint Consulting and has a twenty-five year track record of success as a human resource consultant and executive. The focus of Rick’s work has been on helping organizations close the gap between strategy and execution, work effectively in a matrix organization and lead and collaborate in a virtual environment.

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