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Proven Change Management Principles: How to Effectively Initiate It

Proven Change Management Principles: How to Effectively Initiate It

by Sherzod Odilov and Chris Musser

Story Highlights

  • Change is an inescapable reality for organizations
  • How a leader manages change determines if the organization will thrive
  • Learn the first three guiding principles for successful change

Times of disruption highlight one important truth that the best leaders already know: Change is an inescapable reality of the modern workplace.

So, if change is the only constant, how do you consistently thrive in times of change?

The kind of changes today's organizations face are complex, far-reaching, and multidimensional, yet the most effective leaders navigate these changes by relying on proven principles.

How organizations lead and manage change is what distinguishes companies that thrive from those that merely survive, or worse yet -- fail.

Gallup has identified seven foundational principles for successful change management. The first three are discussed in this article and the remaining four are discussed in part 2 of this series.

1. Clearly articulate the vision for change.

Setting a clear vision for change is one of the most important steps in the change process.

More than anything, it requires change leadership, which is the driving force for any large-scale transformation.

By taking the organization's social and emotional context into account, effective leaders unlock increased ownership and adoption of change through their articulation of this vision.

To be effective, a change vision must create a sense of urgency. The best leaders do this by anchoring the need for change in concrete internal or external realities -- this is why great leaders often leverage externally driven disruptions to initiate change efforts.

A clearly articulated vision informs the organization's change management plans. Change management plans outline the technical approach, tools and structures needed to achieve the change vision.

Through effective change leadership and robust change management plans, organizations inspire and equip their people to embark on successful change journeys.

2. Involve the right people: limited vs. broad involvement.

Decisions about whom to involve in the change process and when to involve them depend on two primary factors: the type of change as well as power and influence dynamics.

Type of change:

Broadly speaking, there are two types of change: transformational and transactional.

Transformational changes affect several parts of the organization and aim to fundamentally transform the organization (e.g., culture transformation). Consequently, they take longer to achieve.

Given their intended breadth, it is critical to involve both executive leaders and stakeholders from different levels of the organization in the conception and execution of these changes.

On the other hand, transactional changes (e.g., rearranging office seating structures) have limited organizational breadth, do not transform anything fundamental about the organization, and take less time to achieve.

During transactional change efforts, it is most effective to create a stakeholder management plan that includes only those who are immediately affected by the change and/or who can help remove barriers.

Seeking broad stakeholder involvement prematurely may reduce effectiveness and unnecessarily increase resistance.

Power and influence dynamics:

The second factor to consider is the power and influence dynamics in the organization. Effective change strategies commission formal and informal power holders at different times during the change process.

Formal power holders derive their power from their roles within the organization, whether or not they have broad influence. They are best leveraged as formal sponsors and high-level drivers of change, who work with informal power holders to set expectations for the change to occur.

Informal power holders may not have elevated roles, but they do have wide organizational influence. When leveraged appropriately by being consulted during the visioning and the execution stages of the change process, they can be highly effective change champions.

However, this must be done tactfully, lest they be seen as "management tools" for gaining traction on change adoption, thus derailing their credibility.

Regardless of the specifics of the change at hand, it is important to recognize that engaged employees are more likely to be effective change leaders and participants. Effective leaders consider the engagement levels of stakeholders throughout the change effort.

3. Communicate the right information at the right time.

When it comes to communication about change, more is not always better. It is more helpful to focus on communicating the right information at the right time and ensuring it comes from the right level of the organization.

When the change vision is first announced, employees will have specific questions like, "What is the end goal of this change?" and, "How will it affect me?" These are known as the distributive aspects of change. They should be the focus of the initial change communications.

As the change process moves into the implementation stage, employees will become increasingly interested in the procedural aspects of change. They will have questions like, "What steps are being taken to implement this change?" and, "Is there anything I should/can do to help?" Specific change management plans and employees' roles in the process should be communicated at this stage.

It is best for both the distributive and procedural aspects of change to be first communicated by senior executive leadership and confirmed by the change management team or functional managers.

During change efforts, the role of the manager is paramount. The best change strategies give managers ownership of the interpersonal aspects of change. This increases the likelihood that teams will remain engaged throughout the change effort -- thus increasing its chances of success since Gallup knows that "70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager."

Managers are responsible for answering questions and mitigating the effects of negative emotions and cynicism among employees. The most effective managers will also use iterative feedback loops and integrate (or escalate) employee feedback as appropriate.

In addition to these three principles, the best leaders anticipate resistance to change, celebrate their short-term wins, and anchor changes to existing organizational levers (these additional principles are detailed in Part 2 of this series). They also know that change is "the only constant" and intentionally plan around this truth.

Learn more about leading through change:

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