5 Steps to Successful Change

The twin keys to successful change strategies are empathy and communication. Remember that change is all about people. If you can truly put yourself in the position of your audience and do all the things that you would need to feel confident and comfortable with the change then you won’t go far wrong! Remember that change is frightening; to counteract this you need to communicate fully, effectively and in a timely manner. Remember that the communication needs to be a two-way process. People will naturally have lots of questions, and they need the opportunity to ask them. Remember to keep all your messages simple, clear and consistent. People will naturally tend towards suspicion, so it is very important to be as open as possible.

Step 1: Understand the Change:

It is impossible to do a good job of communication if you don’t fully understand the issues yourself, so it is essential to get a really clear idea of what the change is all about. Don’t be afraid to ask the management lots of ‘daft’ questions, because that is exactly what people will do as soon as it is announced, so if they don’t yet have good clear answers you are doing them a favour. Approach it all from the perspective of the staff affected. Ensure you understand the full background and the context both internally and in the wider market.

Step 2: Understand the Implications:

Make sure you really understand:-

  • What is driving it?
  • What the benefits are?
  • Who are the ‘winners’ and who are the ‘losers’?
  • What will be done for the ‘losers’ to help them?
  • Who it will impact and how?
  • What the timings are. Is it ‘Big Bang’ or a phased introduction?
  • What alternatives have been considered?

People’s natural and universal concern is “How will this affect me?” Taking time to understand and consider the implications of the change are crucial to reassure them. If you want and need their co-operation then need to trust you to look after them, and this starts by considering the implications and taking the necessary steps to avoid unnecessary ‘pain’.

Step 3: Communicate Clearly

The first thing to do is remember that it has taken you a while to gain your level of understanding and comfort with the ideas behind the plan. Whilst you can help people to move through the process more quickly, it certainly will take time and you have to allow them to get used to the ideas. So break down your story in to natural and simple steps and give them out one at a time, or at least at the speed at which the audience can absorb them. Think about who the message is coming from and ensure that you have the right person to give the necessary authority and reassurance. Use appropriate props, and remember that people absorb information in different ways and at different speeds, so some are visual and will appreciate graphics, some are auditory and pay more attention to the words, others wil be more influenced by the feel of the thing.

Step 4: Listen attentively

Many people in management make the mistake of forgetting what it was like when they weren’t a boss. It is crucial to listen to what people say to you and respond appropriately. If you don’t know the answer, tell them the truth and tell them when and how you will find it. Never pretend more knowledge than you have. Never let them see that you are withholding information. If you can’t tell them something because it is commercially sensitive then tell them that. Asking questions is one way people have to explore the issues and it is a critical step in getting them on board. Listening wins you ‘brownie points’. It also is your way of knowing what is working well and what isn’t and gives you a second chance where you need to spend more time. Also listen for what is not said…

Step 5: Support the People

You have to give what you hope to receive, so, in order to gain their support, you have to support them. HR can play a critical role in considering and championing the needs of the staff. Busy line managers may possibly become too task-focused so it is up to HR to think through the complex, soft issues and these are usually where things go wrong. Think of HR as the oil in the engine, making sure everything works smoothly. If you are doing the job right, no one notices you. Get it wrong and it is usually big trouble! Support needs to be planned at every level, right down to the individuals concerned. After all, they are individuals, and companies change one person at a time!


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