The very definition of change as we know it is—get this—changing, along with the way organizations approach and manage change. Historically, change management was reserved for companies undergoing a merger, gearing up for a new software implementation, or pursuing another initiative with a well-defined beginning and end. In 2020, we saw a marked departure from these traditional change management projects and have pivoted to a state of perpetual transformation.
These days, change is constant, whether it’s thrust upon your organization by way of major events outside of its control (COVID-19, we’re looking at you) or your company is taking a proactive stance and is actively seeking to transform how it operates. Regardless of the root cause, one thing is certain: The companies that survive and thrive in today’s business environment will be defined by their ability to adapt to and successfully navigate this new reality.
Although your company might be getting smarter about change management, you’re not alone if you still struggle with how to build and employ change capabilities internally in a robust and sustainable way. Because large-scale transformation can be an uncertain challenge, it’s helpful to understand the triggers that signal a need to shift your strategy. Consider the following signs to be your calls to action—even if your organization isn’t experiencing all five, they are important indicators to use as a catalyst for achieving measurable change.
The Pace of Change Inside Your Organization Is Accelerating
For starters, rethink the idea of getting from point A to point B—in a volatile business environment where the landscape’s always shifting, “point B” is a mythical promised land where change stops and success begins. Does the work of change management involve iterative steps and checkpoints along the way? Of course, but don’t get hung up on reaching the proverbial end.
When things are speeding up or moving more erratically, take note; you’ll need to adjust your strategy to keep up with this fluctuating pace. By taking a proactive approach and equipping your leaders, partners, and employees with new tools and behaviors to manage a constant stream of change, they’ll be better able to weather whatever storms lie ahead.
You’ve Tried New Ways of Working But They Didn’t Quite Stick
We hate to use the “f” word, but plenty of programs, technology rollouts, and other high-profile initiatives start out with good intentions before ultimately failing to produce business results. For example, if you launched a new software platform or changed the way salespeople are supposed to work together, did your people adopt and adapt? Or did you fail to meet your objectives? What about a new organizational design that shifted people and their roles around—are you measuring the success of this design and its impact on your organization? What are these measures telling you? If the ground is littered with goals that fell short, it’s a sign.
Repeated failed attempts lead to change apathy, depleted team morale, and wasted time and money. No one likes to see major investments lead to little or no tangible outcomes, and these squandered opportunities can lead to major resistance down the road when change is sorely needed. Creating a culture of accountability and agility is imperative and it requires leaders who will reinforce the behaviors of those leading change and innovating together.
Your Company Is in Growth Mode
One of the chief drivers of change is fueled by growth. From M&A activity to the expansion of existing teams or departments, growth almost always necessitates the establishment of a formal change management model to ensure the transition is a smooth one. Organizations make extensive investments to grow their operations, but often neglect to invest in the strategy needed to execute these changes. Without this structure, you’re likely to encounter confusion and uncertainty, which can derail progress before it even begins.
To avoid (or at least mitigate) these dreaded growing pains, consider the following questions:
- How will the organization, team, or department be redesigned to maximize effectiveness?
- How many new team members are being added and/or how many roles will change?
- Is there buy-in at the leadership level?
- How will we integrate the cultures?
- What aspects (process, culture, benefits, etc.) should we start, stop, continue?
Conducting functional and cultural due diligence in advance will help you understand which of your change management capabilities require the most support.
There’s a New Leader Joining Your Ranks
Much like the changes that accompany a new initiative or organizational design, the introduction of new leadership often signals that new ways of working are in order. An incoming executive should approach their new role with open arms and an open mind, and the same is true of the employees welcoming them into the fold. In this respect, change and the acceptance of it go both ways, but it should always start at the top.
Change capabilities are essential for all leaders who must constantly manage change efficiently, from fluctuations in the market to remote working. Change shows up daily and is a skill all leaders need to develop and nurture. For incoming and established leaders alike, empathy must be at the forefront of their approach. At Navigate, we coach leaders on the importance of active listening and encouraging feedback from their teams, starting first with specific issues that we can solve and align on. Leaders need to be accountable and vulnerable during times of uncertainty, which in and of itself is a critical tactic when dealing with change.
Deep-seated Organizational Issues Aren’t Being Resolved and It’s Showing Up as Resistance to Change
For employees navigating organizational, cultural, or even larger societal changes, the process can be fraught with resistance in one form or another. Some team members may be coming to the table with emotional baggage from previous unsuccessful attempts at managing change. On the flip side, other employees might lack the experience necessary to feel comfortable with their abilities. Motivation and commitment from leaders can help foster a sense of purpose among team members, generating buy-in and confidence to move forward. Creating a culture of change and accountability that starts at the top will, over time, reveal itself through business results realized.
One obstacle to be on the lookout for is change fatigue—a sense of apathy or passive frustration that infiltrates team morale after continual changes lead to full-blown exhaustion. Sound familiar? Plenty of us are dealing with pandemic-induced fatigue in our personal lives, a phenomenon that can bleed into or become exacerbated by organizational change. The best way to manage this issue is to continue to share the case for change, connecting the tactics back to the overarching strategy. Ensure you’re leading throughout the entire lifecycle of the change, especially after the project has been completed. Do not be afraid to prioritize and ask the tough questions: What will we stop doing to make time and carve out capacity for this change? What do we need to start doing to be successful in our efforts?
Whether your organization is exhibiting all or some of these telltale signs, chances are you need to formulate a process for building change expertise internally. There’s no right answer or one way to get started; it’s more about constructing a model that meets your organization where it’s at today, so you can get to where you need to go tomorrow. We can help.