How NOT to Screw Up Organizational Change

Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go: lose the word change “management.” You can’t manage change any more than you can manage the cycles of the tide and the phases of the moon. However, a leader can become masterful about thinking and acting in ways that are both strategic and tactical, upping the possibility for both buy in and relatively little disruption.

Think: Will this change add value? Does it serve our stakeholders in the long term? Will it benefit the entire organization or only one part? For example, I was recently with a large public utility in the Midwest. After evaluating all the various operations, costs and longevity, it was determined that the nuclear plant needed to cease operations. This move will allow the utility to expand other energy resources, respond to community needs, and offer sustainability. However, it will impact a large number of employees.

Act: What can be done to help those impacted by the change? What resources will be needed? Is the change so complex that we need resources for trial-and-error? Will new skills be required and therefore training is essential? Will relationships and roles change and thus need interpersonal skill development?

In the case of the utility, the organization has created a significant career center. Outreach into the surrounding communities has netted businesses looking for many of the specific skill sets. Not only are other businesses brought in to talk about what opportunities are available for displaced workers, but mentors have been set up, resume classes have been scheduled, career counseling is available. An outside firm has been engaged to help managers learn how to talk with and coach employees.

THINK: What small steps can be taken to get the change moving. What are measurable goals? Have you made sure “rules” don’t hamper innovation? Change offers great opportunity to streamline, to create better processes, and to build fluid relationships and strategic alliances.

ACT: Communicate and help people align. Listening is critical. Deep listening. Involve as many people as possible in sharing the why behind the change and the desired outcome. Make sure the values and the mission of the organization do NOT change. Remember to speak in plain language. Corporate speak is out.

Lastly, be flexible and honest enough to recognize when it is time to change again. However, frequent change, without letting the dust settle, is not only unnerving but also counter productive. It’s rather like moving the finishing line before one has a chance to savor success. Discouragement runs rampant. Enthusiasm goes down.

Remember, change is but an announcement of “something." It is the transition to a new form that must take place and occupies people's minds and hearts. Trust serves as the critical underpinning for all change to be successful. The greater the trust, the easier it will be.

Without trust, frankly, you are already screwed!

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