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Organizational change is essential for companies that want to evolve and remain competitive. However, first you must figure out not only how your company is going to do it, but if your company actually needs to change. Either way, change, whether it is managed or not, can be incredibly disruptive for companies.

While there is much to say about the management of technology, adjusting technology is much more straightforward than adjusting human behavior. As a result, the currently accepted wisdom is that a core part of a change management strategy involves changing human behavior, without that key piece any transformation initiative is likely to fail.

Why? Because ultimately, it will be the employees that decide whether are not they will adapt to change and whether the technologies that accompany it will be widely adopted. To initiate change, like every other part of a digital transformation strategy, someone needs to take ownership of it. In an enterprise setting, a change team needs to take charge, according to Lisa Sansom of LSV Consulting.

The Role of Change Teams

A change team is typically a group of about 10 individuals who represent the key stakeholders who are the recipients of the change, Sansom said. They may be front-line employees or front-line managers and supervisors — typically no higher up the organizational chart. They are:

  1. Good communicators and competent at their jobs.
  2. They are often informal leaders and respected within the organization.
  3. They do not have to like or agree with the change.

Sansom also believes it is ideal if you can get a couple of respectful dissenters on your change team, because they are influential and the change will benefit from having these individuals in your inner change circle.

The role of a change team is to provide feedback up the chain and take messages back down the chain. They can help you figure out where resistance is most likely and why. They can review communications before they go out.

“They can share experiences and [stop] gossip before it becomes rampant. They are your go-to messengers and can help to champion the change as they start to buy-in, and communicate difficult messages with tact and sensitivity,” she explained.

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Manager Involvement Needed

Change is difficult for most people to deal with, particularly in the workplace and one of the big problems is that the management of it is too often left exclusively in the hands of enterprise leaders. “The biggest mistake I often see in change management is that company leaders often fail to involve managers in the process to embrace, promote and facilitate the changes that need to happen,” said Paul Pellman, CEO at Kazoo.

When managers aren’t completely aligned or involved with the organizational change, employees hear mixed messages and feel ambivalent toward the initiative. While leadership drives desired culture changes, it’s imperative to solicit feedback and input from everyone impacted to make sure that what you’re building is both worthwhile and achievable,” he said.

Furthermore, it is important to provide clear communications expectations. Don’t assume that all managers know your expectations for sharing information with their team — and this is especially true for your new managers.

3 Critical Pieces to Change Management

1. Communicate the Change to All Employees

Most people share a fear of the unknown, which is why clear transparent communication is essential: Having a strong communication plan in place — and adhering to it every step of the way — helps make change less scary. Employees tend to multitask the day away, so even if you catch them in the office, you still can’t guarantee you’ll be heard.

2. Employee-Driven Change

Get employees involved in the change: Once a change is communicated, it’s time to get employees excited. Involving employees in the implementation of the change and explaining how their role impacts the broader mission helps them feel like important stakeholders and minimizes any negative chatter that can be unproductive and detrimental to the process.

3. Transparency and Questions

Be transparent and encourage questions: No matter how much communication you put out and involvement you encourage, employees will always have questions. By being transparent and encouraging employees to ask their questions at any point, employees will be better able to understand and embrace the change. Holding town halls, AMA meetings with leadership, soliciting questions via Google Forms (or another survey tool) and publicizing those answers are a few examples of ways to encourage and answer questions while maintaining transparency.

The biggest blindspot when it comes to change management is failing to solicit feedback from employees every step along the way. Without checking in with workers on a regular basis, how do companies know they are successfully implementing the changes?

Related Article: Avoid Digital Workplace Failure With 5 Change Management Principles

Anticipate Pitfalls and Traps

Chas Fields is HCM strategic advisor at Kronos. He pointed out that regardless of which change management strategies an organization deploys, there are common traps that all projects are at risk of falling in to which can adversely affect the outcome. One of the most common mistakes I see is when an organization automates bad processes.

For example, what’s suited for a manual, paper-driven, or Excel-based approach likely requires many more steps than what a modern, cloud-native solution powered with artificial intelligence (AI) actually requires. They port over the exact same pen and paper employment application instead of designing a new application optimized for a tablet. Or they require managers to review every time-off and shift-swap request by hand instead of allowing the solution to provide recommendations based on the predetermined business rules the manager is already using. “Time and time again, organizations keep the underlying process exactly the same. Little is gained, and despite a powerful new solution, there is little organizational improvement and ROI is never fully realized,” he said.

When executing a change management project, make sure to consider how the underlying processes can be reimagined and modernized to maximize the project’s objectives. This will improve the employee’s experience, the organization’s overall employee engagement levels and help drive user adoption, which in the end will ensure maximum ROI.”

Viima Solutions' co-founder Jesse Nieminen points out that the most effective change management strategy aligns with the company's larger strategic and tactical objectives. He shares four more elements that enterprises need to consider.

1. Unified Vision

Change management should be a 'company-wide, unified vision' with common goals to avoid a silo effect and to ensure that you're not just changing for the sake of it — it has to contribute to your bigger plan.

2. Core Strategy

Ensure that your strategy is at the core of your organization by aligning your KPIs and compensation structure to your overall strategic change management objectives.

3. Systematic Process

When you have the right change management strategy in place, the next step is to build a systematic process for generating, developing, evaluating and implementing new ideas. Usually, the root cause of challenges in getting people on board with your processes is the top management and failing at top-down communication.  Creating an 'open dialogue' by respected members of the company is essential to improving engagement and motivation for employees.

4. Systematic Metrics

Measure your results in a systematic manner. Picking the optimal metrics and setting the right expectations helps monitor your progress. Systematic measuring is the only way to be able to adapt to changes to achieve better outcomes in the future.