From introducing more sustainable processes to implementing remote working technologies, change and business go hand in hand. However, common misconceptions about what the people side of change involves can sometimes make it challenging for businesses to get teams on board with their strategy and get change projects off the ground.
For employees, change management often conjures up images of restructuring and job cuts. As a result, some instantly fear the process, assuming the worst, rather than embracing the chance to deliver organisational improvements. Regarding employers, supporting the people side of change is commonly viewed as a ‘nice to have’ rather than something that is essential to the business’ future success. For this reason, it is often the first thing to get cut in times of difficulty, which is arguably when change management is most needed.
There are a number of reasons why these misconceptions exist, but they all boil down to a lack of understanding. People naturally fear change, often taking a ‘better the devil you know’ attitude, causing them to resist the process. This may be exacerbated by a history of poor experiences with change, brought about by a lack of understanding of how people will be impacted, poor communication, and limited support and training.
If employees aren’t on board, then a successful transformation project can be challenging to achieve. Failed change initiatives can taint the opinions of everyone in the organisation, from employees to employers, with people unable to see the value that change can hold when it is done effectively. From then on, it is seen as an unnecessary expense, particularly for SMEs whose finances are more heavily impacted by the process.
However, the reality of change management is far more positive, provided it is carried out effectively. The goal is to understand where an organisation is, where it needs to go, and the barriers stopping it from getting there. Job cuts are often not involved. In fact, the main purpose of change management is to ensure that the transformation being undertaken will benefit everyone involved with the business, from employees and employers to customers and stakeholders.
As such, clearly communicating with employees is vital, as they are the people who will be impacted most. First, their fear of change must be understood and addressed, enabling them to embrace the process. Employee involvement is key to this, so keeping them updated and listening to any concerns they may have should be a priority. This can lead to a state of continuous improvement, where changes are made based on the issues that team members are facing.
Effectively managing the people side of change makes a project far more likely to successfully fulfil its objectives and brings an organisation greater return on investment. Essentially, it enables businesses to do what they set out to do, resulting in an improved work culture and helping them to realise efficiencies.
This creates a solid foundation for the future, helping to weave agility and flexibility into the core of the business. Once people have experienced a successful transformation process, they become aware of change management’s value, and are more likely to accept it in future. As a result, the organisation will become better prepared for any future disruption it may face. When the workforce isn’t fighting change, it can be implemented much more quickly, leading to a happier and more productive team in the long run.
When considering embarking on a change project, it’s important to allocate a reasonable budget and timespan in order to achieve the best outcome, including allowing time for planning and implementation. Change management strategies can also be scaled-up or -down to suit the business’ needs and budget. It isn’t something that only large organisations can afford and benefit from.
Sometimes, a psychological shift amongst employees is needed before change can be implemented, and this can also take time. Not having staff on board throughout the process can be detrimental, with people feeling as though they are being left behind. This is why clearly communicating the project’s objectives is essential, enabling employees to understand the process and give valuable feedback. Proving that they are being listened to is part of bringing them along for the journey, so it’s important to adjust plans as and when this is needed.
Change fatigue can hinder the transformation process, and following the pandemic, it is likely that many people will be feeling it. Recognising this and adapting the change management approach accordingly will help staff to remain supportive. For example, rather than carrying out lots of smaller changes, this could involve implementing one large transformational change that is cohesive and aligns with business’ goals. When you communicate the benefits of a change, employees can visualise what success looks like, and it’s easier to keep them on side.
One thing is for certain, change is inevitable, but whether it is positive or negative depends on effective change management. Seeking support from professionals in the field can ensure employees are open to the process from the beginning, improving the chances of success, and future-proofing the business for many years to come.
Anna Lane, senior consultant and Tamara Pleasant, managing consultant at business change consultancy, Entec Si