Surviving Change Management: How to Get Employees Onboard
Change management can be part of one of many processes that impact an organization on many levels: a change of leadership; implementation of strategic reforms; massive, cross-organization software adoption; sudden expansion, downsizing (sudden or otherwise) and quite a few more.
Localized as the change may be, its impact can resonate for months afterward. Successful change management is evaluated not by whether the change actually went through, but by its lasting effect on the organization. Careless change management can amount to a decrease in productivity by employees whose confidence has been rattled. It can also result in employee turnover, or simply misuse of new tools implemented. All of these outcomes cost the organization dearly.
Most “guides to effective change management” address the process from a business perspective but few of them touch on the employee perspective. This article will be focused on the human and technological aspects of change management, including risks and possible solutions.
Photo by: Tom and Pat Leeson / ARDEA / Caters News
Managing Expectations and Communication
Much of the fallout in the aftermath of major organizational changes stems from employees’ sense of security being challenged. Being uninformed can be unnerving, to the point of a paralyzing fear that can easily bring down productivity. What’s more – not being in control of changes you are subjected can invoke antagonism and resistance. Between fear and antagonism, there needs to be a way to bring employees onboard before the change actually takes place, and neutralize alarm before it gets out of hand.
As part of the preparations, be sure to implement a clear, accessible plan for communicating the change roadmap to the staff. Communications should be clear, candid, use terms employees are familiar with and discuss the employees’ role in the change (rather than the high-level business perspective).
- Peer leadership – recruit a staff member, preferably not a manager, to be the referent on the subject of change. If the team has someone approachable they can go to with concerns and questions, it may inspire more trust in the organization as a whole
- FAQ – Consider adding a Q&A/FAQ that addresses employee concerns; immediate and long term
- Staff inclusion – throughout the change process, make sure to invite employees to feedback interviews and hear their unmediated thoughts on the nature of the process
Recruiting the Leaders of the Revolution
While change never goes down 100% smoothly, it doesn’t hurt to have a supportive audience in your corner. These can either be natural evangelists who will organically promote the idea during lunch hours, coffee breaks and corridor conversations. They can also be part of a more comprehensive plan designed to integrate staff members into the process.
For example: when implementing new software or a new workflow, appoint team members to certain key roles in this new process: training coordinator; point-person with IT; in charge of collecting and managing feedback, and so on. Needless to say, employees will be more likely to volunteer for such projects if they know it doesn’t add to their existing workload and that it may come with a bonus of some prestige/accreditation/marketable skills.
Formal or not, the point of this tactic is to identify supporters of the process and enlist their active, vocal advocacy, so that support is heard from within the team, and not just management. The peer aspect here is critical to instilling confidence in a time of turmoil and resilience through peer solidarity.
Designing Air-Tight Training and Support
Let’s be absolutely clear about this point: training and ongoing support are the flour to your change management cake. Without them, you’ll end up with a beige-colored gooey mixture no one is going to want on their plate.
Training and support for change management may need to address any number of needs: understanding a new workflow, working with new software, acquiring and applying new skills. Any chosen training strategy should take into account the following factors (and more) when deciding on the best training approach:
- Are we aiming to teach soft skills, hard skills or information/knowledge?
- Are we planning for long term training or short term?
- Will frontal training be effective in the long term?
- Will support be required short term or long term?
- Is it necessary to train support professionals especially for this task?
- Which training technique will be the most cost-effective and worthwhile?
Follow up ideas of a more concrete nature will surely come up: Should we consider blended learning to achieve the best results?
When considering frontal training, take into account the destructive effects of the forgetting curve.
In many cases, the best form of combined training + support for change management will turn out to be performance training. Rather than separating “training” and “support” into 2 seemingly unrelated entities, performance support offers an ongoing framework that combines aspects of training, guidance and teaching with support and help desk qualities.
Which brings us to the next subject in question.
Choosing the Right Software to Support your Process
Well fitted change management software can be instrumental to a successful organizational change. Even when the change is about implementing new software, support software is often required. Many organizations seize the opportunity to replace help desk software to a more human-friendly suite, or upgrade versions on existing enterprise software.
Change management software can range from ticketing systems, through workflow implementation or analytics tools, to onboarding and product adoption software.
A few guiding questions to help navigate the wide terrain of change management software:
- Am I looking for software to support a process, or to support new software implementation?*
- Is this transitional software designed to support an interim stage of the change, or am should we be investing in long-term software?
- For end-users and employees, how complex will the implementation be?
- Am I looking for enterprise grade software or something lighter?
- What elements do I want to measure and how should I do that?
*Onboarding software is used not only for supporting processes, but also for smoothing out other software implementations.
Test, Measure, Optimize, Repeat
By way of an allusion to the famous proverb “Man plans and god laughs”, the safest best is to assume that at least 30% of the change management plan will go awry.
Because employees respond differently than we expect them to; because your change roadmap doesn’t factor in delays, unexpected issues and technical glitches; most importantly – because it’s a flexible process which you may decide to alter a bit if you decide to optimize it.
Measuring tools are often part of your change management software. Intelligently designed analytics tools should be able to reflect some of the organization’s successful transition: how well are new workflows being adopted; how quickly are employees learning to master new software; how much us morale being affected by the transition, and so on.
The important thing to remember is that change is a fluid state of things. Plan periodical “touch base” feedback sessions and define the right metrics to constantly track the state of change. Once you get a sense of the direction things are going, you can recalibrate your efforts and tactics to best fit the process.