If there’s one thing all of us instinctively know, it’s that change is inevitable. Even at a cellular level, we’ve done it a million times. It’s also indisputable that change is hard. It requires us to step outside of what is comfortable and steer toward uncharted waters. As a leader, your ability to deal with change is the key determinant of whether you’re successful or if you struggle.
When facing change, leaders have to be ready to not only spearhead the movement, but ensure the entire team is brought along under a unified vision. A good change practitioner will assess readiness for change, address the issues whether holistically or individually and then communicate wholesale change. In essence, change requires great intention, purposeful followthrough, and a core focus on your people.
In the first of our two part series, “Preparing Yourself For Leading Change,” we’ll explore the basics of organizational change and the 3 core steps all visionary leaders must take to successfully execute change at every level of the organization.
The 3 Step Process of Change
Our three part process can be applied to every type of organizational change; from talent change, M&A, startups or more common change initiatives such as implementing a new CRM, our method is tried, tested and effective.
The process is broken down into the following phases:
1. PREPARING FOR CHANGE
2. MANAGING CHANGE
3. REINFORCING CHANGE
Each phase of the process has core objectives that need to be met, and to help illustrate how to achieve these objectives, we’ll examine a case study that the Transcend executive coaching team executed alongside one of the nation’s largest payroll processing companies.
In this case, Transcend was approached to help the organization through the M&A process. Our team was tasked with finding a way to integrate two companies of vastly different scale and infrastructure, while ensuring that the company being absorbed would still have a voice and stake in the future of the organization.
Take a moment to consider just how important that initial step is. This scenario involved two long-established and successful companies, each with their own leaders who were battling anxiety and fear about a massive change. It’s critical that leaders recognize the human element of change, and that the very first actions in a change process need to be grounded in understanding how the outcomes will affect every stakeholder, even down to the end user.
Step 1. Preparing for Change
Preparing for change involves these core objectives:
Engaging stakeholders in the reasons why the change is happening.
Assessing the organization’s readiness for change.
Distilling the data and making collaborative decisions about the goals and messaging surrounding the change.
Identifying the executive sponsors of change (e.g. who will champion each aspect of the change).
In the case of our M&A client, we helped the two organizations prepare for the change by facilitating co-collaboration on what the new vision, mission and values would be. This high level & co-creative strategy process involved gaining a deep understanding of how open or resistant each company would be to change. As we engaged stakeholders from both companies, we assessed their readiness for change and developed a deep understanding of their true feelings.
As you might expect, leaders from both sides were nervous about the transition. Our executive coaches understood that simply acknowledging discomfort with change was not enough to craft a way forward–both companies needed to know the specific concerns of every stakeholder.
Our team set out for a full day of stakeholder engagement, where we listened to employees at every level explain their concerns about the change, how they felt it would affect them and their clients, and gathered their ideas for integration. This data collection stage is critically important so that leadership on both sides can assess the organization’s readiness to embark on change, and to facilitate collaborative decision making about what the messaging and goals need to be.
After carefully distilling the data, we helped the incoming company become aligned with the process. They felt heard and understood, and were confident they would be part of the process, not just pushed through it. This was a huge turning point in the change movement, and it’s critical that leaders understand that change needs to be built on a foundation of trust and alignment.
From there, we worked to create a plan to address each of the core themes that emerged from our stakeholder interviews. By creating goals that address each theme we were able to gain clear vision on the resources that would be needed to meet each goal, and if the organization would be able to provide the resources internally, or if external assistance would be needed.
Step 2. Managing the Change
Once all goals had been thoroughly discussed and agreed upon by each leadership team, we set out to create a strategic roadmap to implement the change. We made sure both organizations were present and engaged in the creation of the plan, and together we defined:
What the organization needed to say
Who would be tasked with delivering the message
How it would be communicated
It’s critical for leaders to understand that they can’t be the only ones communicating change. In the case of the payroll company merger, it was actually the mid-level managers who became the primary advocates of the change as well as the key messengers. While it’s important for executive leaders to be present and provide vision and strategy for communicating change, they may not always be the prevailing voice that everyone in the company trusts.
As in most cases, the mid-level managers were the most hands on and trusted source of information for the company. Their presence in the daily workings and lives of their employees made them a crucial part of the communication strategy. Once we knew who would need to deliver the message of change, it was time to craft a plan for cadence and how leadership would gain visibility into progress.
To achieve this objective, we established a quarterly check in with the executive and management teams, to evaluate the plan, assess how the change was being received, and ensure alignment between departments. From the beginning we knew the incoming company’s primary concern was to be heard and have a place at the table. These quarterly check ins served as a way to ensure every corner of the company cross-communicated and worked in tandem to define, refine and build new processes and workflows.
Collaboration of this magnitude did not happen overnight. In fact, the change management phase lasted 18 months. Remember: change is hard on everyone, and it takes time to align multitudes of stakeholders under your vision. As a leader, you need to exercise patience and care when bridging gaps between the old and new, and set aside ample time and resources to ensure you haven’t left anyone (or anything) behind in the process.
Step 3. Reinforcing Change
Every leader has a responsibility when it comes to reinforcing change. In fact, every stakeholder has a role to play in ensuring that the change is successfully adopted. Reinforcement needs to be done in tandem, and across all levels of the organization so that every stakeholder has clear visibility on the effectiveness of the change efforts. Depending on the magnitude and scope of the change initiative, the reinforcement phase can last anywhere from 18-36 months, or even longer.
Take a breath–we know that sounds like an overwhelmingly long time. But consider the very nature of change is that it requires you to adopt a new way of thinking and doing. It’s a new habit, a new way of life that needs to be consistently reinforced and practiced. It stands to reason that the moment you stop reinforcing change, you risk slipping into some other type of unplanned and unscripted change.
It’s imperative that you, as the leader of your organization, ensure that change is intentional, and that your plan for enacting change aligns with your mission, values and vision.