Change Management – Don’t Get Blown Out of the Water!

Change management can be an explosive issueChange Management: Danger Ahead

Change management is like sailing into a minefield. One wrong turn can take a simple project and transform it into a bloodied mess. You’re progressing on schedule and on plan, only to be blindsided by something that throws you into damage control.

A critical component has been discontinued. Contractors find asbestos in a hidden layer of ceiling tile. A routine procedure now takes three times as long to complete. The process you changed no longer interfaces with reporting or control systems. Staff is frustrated and there is a mass exodus of key quality employees. Your corporate reputation is in the dumpster.

The stakes are high. There can be deadlines and contractual obligations. There may be a window of opportunity that will not recur. Your job, and possibly your supervisor’s job may be riding on the outcome. On time and under-budget are dogging you constantly. Earnings performance targets hang over your head. The bright, sparkling project has become your worst nightmare.

Whether it is a business expansion, construction project or procedural change, change management can be a challenge.

Smart Tactics for Managing Change:

Avoiding change is not an option. Life changes, and we change to accommodate it. At leadership levels, change management comes with the territory. So how can you work smart to accomplish change?

  • Involve stakeholders early in the process. Employees and others know a wealth of information. Ask them. Primary stakeholders are easy to recognize, but consider those who may appear to be only marginally involved or who you see as totally removed from the issue. You may be surprised at the impact your decision will have across the board.
  • Listen respectfully and seriously. This is not the time for sarcastic comments or lip service. People are trying to tell you something. They are trying to help you. Don’t be an arrogant failure.
  • Evaluate the total return on investment for the change. You obviously see gains, or the change would not be contemplated. So what are the costs? Beyond the direct financial costs, there may be increases in operational and maintenance expenses. What is the impact on processes and procedures? Is there an impact on employee morale? Are you precluding important options? Is your level of risk increasing? Will this make you a better community citizen? Will this make you a better employer?
  • Ask before you tell. Before you make a decision and decree, ask stakeholders the “What if?” questions. Listen and adjust. Give yourself the opportunity to construct the best possible outcome.
  • Be willing to pull the plug. Some projects are slated for success from the start. But some are not. Events may suddenly move in a different direction. Your data gathering may open new opportunities that surpass your initial plans. You may have made a significant investment already, but slogging through to the bitter end on the wrong project is the definition of disaster. Be honest, be upfront. Trying to save face can cost you everything.

Change Management – The Bottom Line:

Some projects succeed mightily with no preparation, no input and no particular plan. But this is not always the case. Take the few extra minutes to see not only the idealized golden goal, but also the people and systems surrounding it.

Regardless of the change, ultimately it is the people – the staff, customers, community and more, who will drive success or failure. Respect the change management process and set your organization and yourself up for success.

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2 Responses to Change Management – Don’t Get Blown Out of the Water!

  1. Avatar
    Lois Bruckner June 5, 2017 at 2:08 pm #

    Great tips, Ellen. Simple, yet sometimes so easy to forget. One thing about soliciting feedback from employees: in confidential situtations, like a merger, aquisition or divesture, it may be hard to investigate the perseptive of those directly or secondarily involved. Have you run into those circumstances, and if so, what’s your perspective?

    • Ellen Huxtable
      Ellen Huxtable June 5, 2017 at 9:38 pm #

      Hi, Lois,
      Thank you for your comments and question. I have been in mergers, acquisitions and divestitures where there was a need for confidentiality. Those changes are often stressful for all concerned. In the best of circumstances, the top decision-makers have structured an information timeline regarding what is shared with whom, and when. Ideally, stakeholders are informed through formal channels, rather than hearing rumors through the grapevine. Whenever possible, those managing the change process should allow for serious input from stakeholders, relevant to the amount of information disclosed at each step in the process. There may be a corporate decision to merge or divest; the people in the field have the ability to make the transition as smooth or as difficult as possible. Acknowledging the potential feelings of loss and uncertainty, and asking for their ideas on how to implement the decisions that have been made can help smooth over both the technical challenges as well as the emotional stress to the staff.

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