Successfully manage organizational change: mission possible!

Posted on: March 16, 2020 by Mark Muddiman

Organizational change management (OCM) is never easy, regardless of the industry or factors driving the change. All too often organizations focus on the tasks at hand − an implementation, project or timeline to maintain − and only address the effects of change when problems arise. Lessons learned from organizations experiencing transformation can be shared across industries because the challenges encountered are often the same.

Expect some healthy resistance

Perhaps the most evident challenge when an organization faces change is resistance from employees. Resistance should always be expected when implementing change because for some it is a natural reaction to change. The root of the resistance varies and can be shaped by the organization’s historical success with implementing change. Individuals may be concerned about the impact on their role in the organization or even fear the loss of employment. A change may be perceived as difficult, unnecessary or even less efficient. Although these may seem unrealistic to those “in the know,” these concerns are not to be brushed aside.

Change is stressful for all involved and can easily lead to conflict. It’s not uncommon for emotions to run high or for individuals to lash out during a change. This might be due to stress, anxiety from facing the unknown or any number of reasons. Regardless, these conflicts must be addressed to improve the odds of successful implementation and change.

Monitor your progress and adoption

Why does McKinsey and Company estimate that 70% of all transformations fail? One big reason is that many organizations do not set up the required visibility to monitor the change. There may be an abundance of dashboards and reports, but these won’t provide an effective means to monitor change unless they are explicitly related to the desired outcome. Without a means to monitor the change, it is difficult to identify achievements that should be celebrated along the way. Recognizing and celebrating milestone achievements help to reinforce momentum and provide examples of the positive impacts of change.

It’s not uncommon for organizations to focus on the change at hand or a specific “go-live” and fail to incorporate all the elements required to reinforce the change. Sometimes employees may ignore new systems by continuing to use current resources or they find workarounds to established best practices. One of our clients rolled out a new scheduling system − twice. During the initial rollout, there was little communication or structure, which caused those affected to be largely unaware of the change. No formalized training was offered, and adoption was stifled because employees saw the new system as optional. Employees continued using the system of record. Before the relaunch, we recommended optimizations to the system that would make it more functional for a wider range of users. We proposed a communication plan to reinforce adoption of the new system because it was supported by company policy. Formalized education was also suggested.

Optimizations will occur, new hires will join the organization, and roles and responsibilities will continue to evolve. Without an effective communication strategy and training to address the long-term adoption of change, success will be limited.

Leadership as champions of change and communication

Leadership must be engaged to promote change. Leaders often are attentive to escalations, immediate needs, and the operations of the organization, but during times of change they must also commit time to supporting change. Leaders should be enthusiastic about changes, encourage others and support the change through policy as needed. Change is driven from the top down with leadership providing an example of positive influence. In doing so, leaders will provide clear direction and demonstrate a “we’re in this together” mentality that reduces resistance and potential conflicts. I can think of one client who had an executive champion that stood out as a great change leader. This gentleman was extremely engaged and helped define the workflows and education while being heavily involved in developing clear messaging to his peers about the system and the adoption process. These kinds of champions are invaluable to the success of your transformation.

The importance of communication before, during and after organizational change cannot be underscored enough. It is important to anticipate and proactively address the reasons behind resistance when forming a communication strategy. If change has historically been difficult, communications should acknowledge this and outline how the current strategy will help avoid those complications. At the same time, communication should always utilize clear and concise language and the benefit to those impacted by change should always be clearly conveyed.

Build engagement with incentives and training

Benefits such as learning new marketable skills or more rewarding work may not always be apparent to those impacted by change. In these cases, incentives such as raffles, a company outing, time off, monetary gifts, or other incentives deemed appropriate can provide a clear benefit to completing the change. Incentives and rewards should be selectively used whenever necessary, especially to promote key changes. Caution should be taken to avoid providing an expectation of reward or incentive, and communications should identify rewards that organically result from the change process. Together, these elements reduce uncertainty and anxiety when incorporated in communications, while also simplifying the change process and reducing resistance.

Although engaged leadership and clear communication are critical, effective training is often a fundamental basis of change. Organizations must provide ample resources for staff to quickly learn new processes, software or skills that are required as a result of the change and to maintain the adoption long term. If staff cannot utilize a new workflow, change responsibilities, or complete less familiar (but required) tasks, then it won’t matter how successful the technical changes were.

The three m’s: metrics, milestones and modifications

Finally, organizations must have a successful means to continually measure their success through metrics. A strategy must be incorporated that identifies metrics directly linked to expected business outcomes and establishes a process for metric evaluation. Metrics may assess improved service uptimes, reduced outages, time required by staff to complete a task, cost savings, user installs or more depending on the type of change. For example, if you’re rolling out a new workforce management system to manage repairs, service calls and maintenance, you might set an adoption milestone such as getting 30% of users up and running within the first three months. In addition to tracking adoption, you should also track the time or cost savings achieved during that time, giving you a direct link to the value as well as different achievements to celebrate. Establishing such a strategy for metrics will lead to improved analysis of milestones and achievements to share and celebrate, but more importantly, it will identify shortcomings that should be addressed by modifying the change management strategy.

No matter what industry you’re in, a comprehensive organizational change management plan is crucial to any successful transformation of your business. An OCM plan helps you to manage how employees are introduced to and adopt change, to monitor and identify important milestones, and to operationalize the changes so that they are measurable and eventually become the new way of working.

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About Mark Muddiman
Engagement Manager, Atos North America
Mark Muddiman serves as an Engagement Manager for Atos. Over the past six years, Mark has managed adoption solutions that encompass organizational change management in a variety of industries. Mark holds a Master of Science degree from University of Denver in Information and Communications Technology. Prior to joining Atos, Mark worked in both the healthcare and technology industries providing direct patient care, training, administrative support, and management which often involved, and led to, his interest in organizational change.