Imagine reading an email one morning saying that, “starting immediately, internal communications will be moved from email to Slack.”
Without understanding why this is necessary or being given a reasonable period to transition to a new tool (much less the training needed to learn it), you would probably react poorly. Maybe you and a few others refuse to adopt Slack, period.
Meanwhile, leadership eagerly accepts the change. Within a week, half of the company will be chatting in Slack while the other half stubbornly sticks to email. Now you have resentful employees that are resisting change and have serious organizational change management communication gaps. All because of not following simple change management best practices.
No one likes to hear “because I said so.” Proper change management practices can help you avoid the nightmares that result from doing so.
Before you announce any plans, read up on important aspects of organizational change, such as management models, communications strategies, tools that support change, and other change management best practices. While no two changes are alike, there are methods that apply to organizational change management as a whole. If you put in the work before you initiate change, you’ll be able to dive into the implementation process with the confidence that your change will be successful.
What are the best practices of change management to follow?
Choosing a change management model and identifying change leaders early on will ensure that you have a strong foundation for your change implementation plan. After that, you can focus on communication and training.
Once you understand the reasoning behind these change management best practices, you can make educated decisions that lead to successful implementation. The result is a plan that allows you to be firm in your change process, but flexible — even creative — in the tactics used throughout it.
1. Choose a change management model
All organizational changes benefit from structure. While there is no one-size-fits-all model or theory, several established change management models can be used as guides. Each forces you to see your change from a different perspective and allows for agile change management.
For example, the McKinsey 7-S Model is built on keeping seven elements in harmony: Strategy, Structure, Systems, Shared Values, Style, Staff, and Skills. Analyzing the far-reaching effects of your change allows you to create a comprehensive game plan.
Whichever model you choose, do not use it as a to-do list. You can’t check off completed tasks and forget about them. The McKinsey 7-S Model, for instance, requires you to continuously check in with each element throughout the transition. If you create a new department, the current staff will be affected, the skills of both new and established employees will need to be evaluated, and the structure of the org chart will shift. It’s a balancing act.
Furthermore, some changes benefit from more than one model or theory. Combining the McKinsey 7-S Model with the Bridges’ Transition Model, for example, would help you address employees’ emotional reactions to change. While one model may provide the structural framework for change implementation, another can provide another type of guidance.
Be open to combining methodologies, especially if it helps you manage human reactions to change.
2. Identify and support the people who will be most affected by the change
Organizational changes will affect several people or departments, but it’s important to determine who will be most affected, so you can assign a change leader to work with them closely throughout the transition.
Start by identifying who will have to significantly alter how they work. For example, if the IT team will begin using ServiceNow to handle internal IT issues, anyone who works with IT will be affected, but the IT team will be affected the most. In order for them to support the change, they must understand how the change will impact their work in particular.
Of course, you may not be the best person to communicate this information, which is why choosing the right change leaders is vital. People are more receptive to change announcements when they are delivered by someone they trust. In this case, the Director of IT would be an ideal change leader. The IT team is familiar with this person and trusts their guidance. Making the switch to ServiceNow won’t seem as daunting if the IT team has the Director of IT leading the training, answering questions, and supporting them throughout the transition.
If the people most affected by the change aren’t on board with it, solidifying the change as the new norm will be extremely difficult. Assigning change leaders who empathize with them and can convey necessary information clearly is key.
3. Practice continuous communication about the change
Don’t just announce the change; start a conversation about it. If you try to force change without discussing everything, from the reason for the change down to the details of how it will be implemented, you’ll create unnecessary barriers. In fact, a McKinsey study showed that communication was the single most influential factor in successful change.
Start by designing a change management communication plan so that you have a clear idea of what needs to be communicated, who should communicate it, and when. Pay special attention to how you talk to your team about the purpose of the change. It’s difficult to get employees to support something new if they don’t fully understand why it’s necessary. According to one survey, this is why over 1/3 of U.S. employees struggle with organizational changes.
Discuss the change throughout the transition. More importantly, make use of transparent methods of communication, such as:
- A shared document with answers to FAQs
- A Slack channel dedicated to discussions related to the change
- A Honey communication wiki that encourages collaborative communication
By employing a variety of transparent communication tools, you keep conversations active and open. Consequently, employees feel more engaged.
One company that centralized communications reported a drastic reduction in communication silos, which resulted in an increase in company morale. This is a significant win, not just for the company culture but also for change management. As per Maurer’s 3 Levels of Resistance, happy employees who feel confident in the change and the reasons for it are less prone to resistance.
4. Manage the change creatively
Change may be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be boring. Using a variety of channels to discuss change is a great way to keep people engaged, but don’t get stuck in the rut of traditional methods. Without a doubt, creative change management tactics will grab and hold people’s attention better than formulaic emails or drawn-out meetings.
Here are a few creative ideas for managing and implementing your upcoming organizational change:
1. Create your own animated video tutorials
Even if online tutorials related to your change exist, resist the urge to rely on them. It’s so easy to tune out generic training videos. Personalized animated video tutorials are more relatable — and they aren’t as difficult to make as they sound with tools like Vyond.
Plus, the benefits of video tutorials are notable: In one study, a Senior Learning Designer reported that animated videos kept employees more focused on the content compared to when they held trainings in more traditional classroom settings. The video tutorials also resulted in higher rates of retention.
2. Tell a story about the change
Help people visualize the change process by presenting a story about the change — via an animated video or another format — from start to finish. This tactic works well with gradual transformations, such as rearranging teams within the company.
Let’s say you plan to split the marketing department into two teams. One team will focus on content marketing, and the other will work on paid advertising. To demonstrate how the transformation will take place over time, create a story of an ideal transition process so that the marketing team can visualize how it will happen. When they can see the journey from beginning to end, they won’t feel as anxious about embarking upon that journey themselves.
Break your change plan process into “chapters” of a story, presenting each one in a short video. In the aforementioned Vyond study, 75% of viewers watched up to two minutes of each video, so one-to-two minute “chapters” are more likely to be watched in full. Plus, this allows you to share your story as a series so that people can digest the change gradually.
Consider delivering the chapters on a regular basis, perhaps daily or weekly, so that employees can look forward to the next installment. Be sure to include familiar characters (employees) and environments in order to keep employees connected to the story. The better they relate, the more likely they are to get on board with the change.
3. Create a resource center for the change
Change management requires loads of information to be created and distributed. You’ll likely have a collection of emails, meeting notes, videos, call recordings, training guides, Q&A sessions, and other internal documents related to the change. Keep everything organized in a central (and searchable) location so that people can find it later.
Resource centers don’t have to be limited to written communication; you can also:
- Transcribe calls, so people can easily search for information.
- Review video meetings and break demos into short videos that can be reviewed later.
- Create a FAQs section to avoid answering the same questions.
When you use creative methods, you give employees the chance to engage with change in a variety of ways. Remember – happy employees are less resistant to change.
5. Express appreciation for small wins throughout the process
Always celebrate wins throughout the transition. More importantly, celebrate the people responsible for them. Showing appreciation can positively impact how employees work. In fact, a study involving nearly 5 million employees linked employee recognition to increased overall productivity. Acknowledging your employees’ efforts to implement change will not only speed up the process but also facilitate smoother transitions.
Use tools like Lattice to publicly share praise for individuals. Lattice stores recognition in each employee’s file and gives you the option to share that praise with the rest of the team.
Some companies have also use the Honey tool to create “shoutouts” or “wins” channels that allow everyone within the organization to highlight successes and share appreciation. Find a tool that cultivates a supportive environment for your team.
When it comes to change management, Stephen R. Covey’s advice to “begin with the end in mind” is fitting.
Before you initiate change, you need to have the desired outcome and know how you plan to achieve it. Remember that it’s possible to stick to the plan and still be creative about the tactics you use to follow it.
Reading up on change management best practices will help you prepare for the change. When it comes time to implement it, rely on tried-and-true change management tools and solutions.
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