The secrets of successful change management - Business Works
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The secrets of successful change management

by Stephen Archer, Director Spring Partnerships With the economy improving, businesses are feeling more confident about future growth plans. However, for many the past few years have been tough and have taken a toll on staff morale. In such companies, growth isn't possible without change which can be the most challenging thing for any leader. Stephen Archer, Director at Spring Partnerships, looks at how leaders can drive change and make it stick.

Look at what will happen without change

Firstly, leaders needs to identify the risks facing the business and create a 'burning platform' for change that is communicated to everyone. The drivers for change whether for generating more profit and growth or so the company can expand into new markets must be justified and communicated.

keeping information to themselves and forcing changes on unwilling followers

Business leaders are often guilty of keeping such information to themselves and then expending energy forcing changes on unwilling followers. They need to remember that, given the same understanding of the all the facts, the vast majority of managers and employees would reach the same conclusions as them and make the same decisions about what is needed. This inclusive approach also creates a solid foundation for change.

Provide a clear vision

An inspirational vision for the business must be set out and employees need to see the logic behind it. They must link the need for change and the common purpose in adversity. It may be necessary to persuade employees that the company has no choice, but to change and jobs are at risk if no action is taken. However, creating a credible model and a clear direction will reassure employees. On the other hand, if employee don't understand or buy into the vision the change management programme can fail at the first hurdle. The vision sets the ideal destination for the business and needs everyone on board to achieve success.

Act with conviction

Leaders must lead by example and act decisively on urgent priorities. By auditing the key issues the business is currently facing and addressing these will create a sense of urgency and show they are serious about implementing change. This can help create a tremendous energy and buzz and the sense that everyone is pulling together, with a shared goal.

Make change tangible as well as a communicated idea

Re-structure the organisation where needed as a visible marker of change. Although re-structuring should NEVER mark the start of the change process without the 'burning platform' needed for change and the vision; once these elements are established then a re-structure may be needed. Changing the structure can give permission to new behaviours and ways of doing things. Different authority levels, changes in who makes the decisions and who holds the budgets can bring a new sense of empowerment to people.

Make change stick

Coaching can underpin this new sense of empowerment and should be embedded in the company as the predominant leadership behaviour going forward. This can help release people's full potential, yet make them accountable for results and helps them become more committed to the company.

Develop champions of change

Within any organisation there will be different groups that will need to be handled in different ways and some people simply won't fit into the new vision. For instance, the defenders of the status quo, can be people who are incapable of change and therefore need to be removed or side-lined with dignity, so that the weaker people don't follow their view. The focus should be on promoting the rising stars or energetic long servers - often those with great enthusiasm over experience. Make the people that feel strongly about things the champions of change and the rest will hopefully follow.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

in the absence of information many people will just make things up

A common mistake businesses can make is focusing more on external communications than on internal. Your business is your employees and they are just as important as your customers. There needs to be regular and consistent on-message communication which needs significant time spent on face-to-face communication, as well as other communication tools such as e-mail and newsletters. Leaders also need to tell employees over and over again what you want them to know. In the absence of information many people will just make things up, so don't let this happen.

This last step is crucial, as given the same information as leaders, most employees would come to the same conclusions. There is nothing more powerful in implementing cultural change than if employees would have made exactly the same decision if it was their business and can completely buy into your vision for the future.

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