10 Steps for Managing Change in Your Business

Art Boulay, MBA and William A. Maloney Sr.

Change—some thrive on it, while others resist it. Why is it that two individuals can look at the same thing and think totally different thoughts? Some see change as essential, while others fear the worst. Half full versus half empty—possibilities versus consequences. We have a few ideas on managing change in your business.

Here’s our basic behavioral profile—we’re optimists; we enjoy interacting with others, have a high trust level, sometimes talk too much, are generally quick to accept meaningful change and at times too direct. We share these behaviors with about half of the population. Our natural tendencies are to quickly accept change. Keep in mind that over one-third the population is naturally reserved about accepting change and there’s an additional 14% who flatly resist change. [Figures based on DISC Behavior population norms.]

While sometimes we control change, most of the time we are impacted by change and are expected by employers, clients, boards of directors or the government to accept change and support it. But if our natural tendencies are to be reserved or resistant, is it a fair expectation? Our answer, setting aside our personal tendencies, is “no.” Even for change “embracers” like ourselves, skepticism may set in if a change effort is poorly managed.

For “change” to take place we need a large segment of the work force to accept, believe and support the change. Change needs to be accepted and ultimately viewed positively. If change isn’t accepted it will become the kryptonite that brings an organization to its knees.

The real questions are “Where,” “Why” and “How” will an organization make critical changes and what are the implications if changes are not implemented?

Here is a change process designed to engage the 86% who are reserved about change and involve them from the beginning to gain their support and trust. Remember the goal is to engage a majority of employees to actively support the change process.

How to Ensure a Successful Change Effort:

  1. Establish an implementation team that represents each area impacted by the change.
    • Example, a change in customer billing may involve representatives from accounts, sales, billing, HR and IT.
    • Consider adding vendors and other relevant outside representatives.
  2. Develop a change statement about what needs to be changed.
    • Why and what will be different after the change?
    • Outline the benefits, obstacles and consequences of the change.
    • Change should only be considered when the benefits clearly have advantages over the obstacles or the consequences eliminate alternatives.
  3. Establish a communication strategy that keeps everyone aware of the change schedule, current issues, and progress.
    • Insist on 2-way communication.
    • Give people an opportunity to ask questions, provide new information, or raise objections—there will be objections whether you ask or not, better to get them up front!
  4. Finalize a detailed project plan and publish it for everyone to see.
  5. Start the implementation process and provide periodic reviews and progress updates.
    • We are big fans of Deming’s Plan Do Check Act.
    • Expect the unexpected and do everything possible to insulate current operations from problems.
  6. Implement ongoing skills development programs.
    • Technical training and hands on experience is critical, and allows a “check” for new problems.
    • Interpersonal or “soft” skills training must not be overlooked, knowing that at least half the team or customers will be reserved or resistant about the changes—even if they don’t tell you!
  7. Complete an ongoing assessment of the plan and define additional obstacles and changes.
    • This can be useful to avoid current problems, and for the success of future change efforts.
    • It is an opportunity to document how to turn natural resistance to a “win-win.”
  8. Constantly reinforce the need for the change and the commitment needed to support the change.
    • Another favorite Deming quote: There are no bad people, just good people working in bad systems.
    • Do not allow an individual or team to be “thrown under the bus” for a perceived failure.
    • The more time spent on reinforcing the need for change and planning for change is a key ingredient in Transforming your business into a high profit organization.
  9. Continue the plan implementation, ongoing assessment, training and reinforcement until the change process is completed.
    • Declare victory and “let off the gas” only after the change has been fully implemented and operational for a few cycles.
    • For a customer billing change, for example, make sure it works for multiple billing cycles that include all normal customer functions like returns, discounts, busy periods and slow periods.
  10. Celebrate your accomplishments with everyone!

Want to learn more about managing change in your business?

Check out our review of John P. Kotter’s book Leading Change. Kotter makes an excellent case for why the 8 stages of change must be done, and done in sequence. The underlying message of the book is the need for leadership and management to get the job done, and recognizes that most organizations have done a good job developing management, and not enough to develop leadership.

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