Almost 75% of change management initiatives fail. Considering how well-researched the Change Management domain is, the success rate raises a lot of eyebrows. But it’s also a testament to how complicated organizational change is and how many experienced change managers get it wrong despite all the literature available to them.
We all know that effective communication is the key to successful organizational change. But effective communication, in itself, is highly complex and subjective. What might seem effective to the communicator might sound ineffective to the target audience. The effectiveness of communication during organizational Change would ideally be measured by the proportion of the target audience who felt convinced by the conveyed message.
A 2013 research by Towers Watson found that 68% of senior managers get the message of the reasons for organizational change. That figure, however, falls to 53% in case of middle managers and further down to 40% in case of front-line supervisors.
A lot of people are clearly not getting the message. The primary problem lies in the fact that while top-level managers understand the need to effectively communicate the reasons for organizational change, they generally don’t gauge the effectiveness in real-time. If 60% of the last-level employees don’t find the reasons for organizational change compelling, the platform for failure is laid.
Bottom line: Silky communication and convincing ability doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But effectiveness is not just about how convincing the argument is but also making the right arguments for organizational change by answering the right questions.
A winning argument for organizational change is made by the top-level management in an enterprise but should from the bottom-level employees’ perspective.
We’ll make an attempt to make that easier for you with the five questions that you should absolutely answer before embarking on an organizational change initiative. But before that, for the uninitiated, let’s do a tiny primer on what organizational change entails.
What is Organizational Change?
Organizational change is the process of pivoting the strategies, processes, technological stacks, culture etc in order to change the overall direction of the company.
Organizational change is necessitated by existing market circumstances or future expectations. Change can also spurred by failure of an organization to reach its goals over a certain period of time.
Change could entail anything from a slight variation in business processes to an entire pivoting of long term business strategy and operations. As technology has advanced, there are multiple software tools for change management that can simplify the process in enterprises. However, a major part of organizational change still needs to be thought out and executed manually.
Let’s get to the working part. Why are these questions important?
Your target audience is those middle-level managers and their team members (generally the hardest to convince) and for your organizational change initiative to work, they need to feel convinced of the drivers for the change.
Transparency and Trust
Change management is a team game. And like any team game, trust and transparency are crucial ingredients sans which organizational change initiatives cannot succeed.
It is also important to understand that transparency builds trust. And active engagement with employees at all levels answering all their queries objectively builds transparency.
Large enterprises like AON have acknowledged that employee engagement and participation is one of the key factors in change management success and that’s not without reason.
Change management becomes far easier when your team is behind you throughout the whole process. And they will only get behind you and have your back when they realize not only that the change initiative is for a really important goal but it’s for their self-fulfillment in the short and long terms. As Henry Ford said, success takes care of itself when everyone moves forward together.
5 Questions to Answer Before Organizational Change Initiatives
Transparency helps in building trust and one of the key objectives of answering these questions is to build trust with your employees. We’ll give you the questions. And you figure the answers to them.
1. Why do we need change at this point in time?
Slightly obvious yet extremely important because the first question your target audience will ask is why do we change?
Change initiatives are all about manipulating the status quo to reach a higher state. But changing the status quo is a hard task especially because it impacts the middle and lower level employees’ daily routine. They are the ones who need to put in extra effort to adapt to the new processes.
So, it’s imperative that the top-level management answers this question and provides a roadmap as to what is wrong with the status quo, why it needs to change, what the change actually entails, and how it will bring immediate benefits to the target audience.
Of course, the primary driver of this answer would be why the change part. It would wrong to assume everyone knows the reasons because the information is generally not available uniformly.
And yes, change management should ideally be a thankless job because they control the conception but the implementation quality depends on the middle and lower-level guys.
2. How will the Organizational Change help in achieving the business objectives/what are the benefits?
It is true that some thoughts need to be repeated multiple times for them to be actually accepted. There are multiple channels using which you can get your message across. It is best to use a combination of multiple channels.
Once you have cleared the air around why an initiative of change is required at the given time, it is important to evangelize the objectives that the organization and how the change initiative is expected to help in achieving those objectives or goals.
The trick here is not in convincing your employees how the conceptualized organizational change will help achieve the new objectives. The real trick is in convincing them that this is the only or the best way to go about achieving the set goals. And it must be communicated in such a way that they actually believe what you are saying.
3. How will the change help the employees/end stakeholders personally?
Whether people actually admit it openly or not, the only reason they work for an organization is to serve their own self-interest. If employees toil to get their organization’s revenues up, it’s because they believe the growth of their employer organization will fuel their personal growth. It’s pretty obvious but very few admit it openly.
Now, what does that have to do with Organizational Change?
Because personal growth is of paramount importance to employees, they need to understand what is their interest in participating in the change initiative and helping achieve its objectives. If only they realize that there will be some sort of tangible benefits for them arising out of the organizational change initiative, they are likely to put their heart and soul into it.
This is not to project employees as just self-serving individuals but just to point out that there needs to be a give and take in a critical process where two sides are involved.
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4. What happens if we don’t embark on the change initiative?
Not really a directly critical question to answer but one that is slightly supplementary in nature. You already explained to your employees why this particular instance of organizational change is the only or best way. The first question also should have provided answers to why the change initiative must be undertaken.
But this one is more about creating the fear factor. What happens if the status quo continues? What happens if there is no change in the organization? Are we headed for doomsday?
You need to put forth a compelling argument that actually says your organization is headed for disaster if there you don’t change the way business is being done.
You might still feel that this argument would be a duplicate of the first one. It could also suit you to answer this question before the others. Either way, it should work as long as your argument is compelling enough.
But beware, don’t go so far that your argument borders on the unbelievable.
5. What is the contribution required from the stakeholders?
Top-level managers in an enterprise conceptualize the organizational change that their company needs to embark on. They manage and implement that change initiative but the success depends on the middle and lower-level employees.
Those are the guys who need to believe in the change and do what is required. Of course, assuming the theory of the change is sound.
But still, you need to tell your teams exactly what they will be required once the change kicks in, and how it will affect their work routines. What new skills will they require to learn? How much time do they have? What kind of support can they expect? And so on and so forth.
It is natural for them to be jittery before and during change initiatives. Your job is to reassure them that even if they go slow or aren’t really quick to adapt to the change, they still have your support.
Change management initiatives generally result in Continuous communication is another key factor. Neither change managers nor employees can completely prevent that although there are methods that can shorten the length of the low productivity period.
Irrespective of the length of the productivity loss, change managers need to reassure their employees that the consequences will not affect their employment or that the low productivity will not reflect negatively on them.
But yes, it’s important to ensure that they are not scared and afraid for themselves in order for them to give their best.
Organizational change is a slow process precisely because it involves lots and lots of people.
Continuous communication is another key factor in ensuring change management success. True, communication must be continuous but it must also be gradual and incremental.
The premise for change must be developed well in advance and the argument for organizational change must be made over a period of time and not just a day or two.
To answer the questions we provided here might take just a talk session over a day or two. But that wouldn’t be the best way. The most compelling arguments are the ones that are built over a period of time.
That’s what builds trust, ensures transparency, and makes communication effective.