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Proven Change Management Principles: Getting Employees on Board

Proven Change Management Principles: Getting Employees on Board

by Sherzod Odilov and Chris Musser

Story Highlights

  • All change efforts will encounter resistance
  • Celebrate short-term wins
  • Change is part of the playing field, so plan for it

This article is the second in a two-part series about the seven guiding principles of change management -- read Part 1 to learn the first three principles.

Organizational change is both inevitable and challenging. The first article in this series established the first three principles that enable the best leaders to navigate change successfully:

  1. Clearly articulate the vision for change.
  2. Involve the right people at the right time: limited vs. broad involvement.
  3. Communicate the right information at the right time.

The rest of this article introduces the last four principles that help leaders anticipate challenges and support their people along the path toward effective change.

4. Always account for resistance to change.

All change efforts -- no matter how well-planned they are -- will encounter resistance. It is important for leaders to understand some common causes of resistance:

  • Some may feel psychological ownership of the object of change, especially if it has been in place for a long time.
  • Some may resist the content of the change if they have strong differing opinions about what is being introduced.
  • Some may resist the way the change is being introduced (e.g., communications surrounding the change).

Recent studies show that individual factors can predispose certain employees to be more change-resistant than others. The best change strategies account for dispositional factors (e.g., individual talent) when making plans to mitigate resistance to change.

Depending on the nature of the change and the anticipation of resistance, change leaders can increase the likelihood of success by being intentional about how the change is designed.

They can design the change effort to be incremental rather than revolutionary.

The design can also be built as self-initiated instead of imposed, allowing appropriate stakeholders to own certain parts of the implementation.

In addition, change leaders can try to ensure that the envisioned state is additive vs. subtractive by being intentional about how they frame the change (e.g., "new technology is making our work easier," as opposed to, "new technology gets rid of our old storage files").

5. Celebrate short-term wins without declaring premature victory.

Organizational change is hard, and each milestone win (big or small) needs to be celebrated. This creates a positive atmosphere for the organization and can have positive implications for the overall change strategy.

One of the benefits of celebrating short-term wins is that it creates an amplifying effect on the change process: short-term celebrations produce positive emotions that, in turn, lead to an elevation in individual performance during the time of organizational change.

All organizations face change, but few achieve their intended outcomes.

Celebrations of wins can also have a buffering effect. Indeed, short-term celebrations help buffer the negative effects of organizational change by enhancing resiliency, solidarity and efficacy.

It is critical that change leaders not declare victory prematurely, lest they encounter renewed resistance to change or loss of credibility.

One way to avoid doing so is to holistically communicate next steps after each milestone win and continually reassess progress after each celebration.

6. Effectively anchor the change to the organization.

Change efforts often fail to achieve their intended outcomes because they are not supported by existing organizational levers that promote certain types of employee behavior -- things like reward structures, promotion processes, and existing roles and responsibilities.

Part of anchoring the change is ensuring that different parts of the organization are working together in unison to reinforce the direction of the change initiative.

For example, if an organization wants to change its culture to become more innovative, leaders need to communicate that expectation openly, recognize and promote innovative employees, create leadership competencies around innovation, and hire for innovative talent.

Depending on the nature of the change, different levels of financial, cultural, political, and temporal factors may be important.

To successfully anchor the change, it is important to evaluate whether change efforts have been successful. Holistic change strategies include formal or informal change evaluation processes in the change management plan.

Depending on the nature of the change, change evaluations can happen iteratively throughout the change process, right after the change implementation, or sometime after the change implementation ends to allow time for employees to develop certain desired behaviors.

7. Always plan for change to be "the only constant."

Organizational change efforts are not always linear. What happens in one part of the organization often requires modification in other areas.

The most effective change strategies iteratively identify additional needs for change throughout the entire change process.

Operating in an environment of constant change can lead to change fatigue, which can decrease engagement and productivity, and negatively affect employee wellbeing.

To avoid this, the best leaders don't plan for more than one concurrent transformational change at a time. They also seek to shift employee mindsets through various forms of training and development to help employees cope with the change.

All organizations face change, but few achieve their intended outcomes. Because change initiatives are so frequent and challenging, leaders who consistently navigate them successfully will gain an advantage over others.

By pursuing change efforts with these seven principles in mind, leaders will increase the likelihood that their organizations will thrive.

Lead your people through change, no matter how frequent or disruptive:

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