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Change Management: 3 Things Every Manager Needs To Know

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Managing change is an essential skill for managers. Every leader and manager will be involved in change management at some point in their careers. Equipping yourself and your team with at least a basic understanding of what goes on during a time of change is a wise investment if your change process is to have the best chance of success.

Organisations are constantly required to evolve and keep up with changes in the external environment, new technology and the changing expectations of both the workforce and customers. The need for change may be urgent and a matter of survival, or not urgent now but necessary for the long term. It could involve the whole organisation or just a part of it. Change comes in many forms but there are some common themes. Here are just three things every manager needs to understand about managing change.

Change is complex

Changing an organisation from one state to another is a complex undertaking. It is more than just a theoretical change in processes, systems or branding. It almost always involves a permanent change in people’s behaviour. Change is not as neat as the diagram looks in the PowerPoint presentation; it is as messy as the people, relationships and vested interests that are involved!

People are used to working in particular ways and the status quo is familiar and comfortable. A certain culture and way of doing things will have embedded itself in the organisation.

As a manager, you will know about much of this but there will be other aspects that you are unaware of. It can be difficult to change something that you didn’t even know existed.


Change follows certain patterns

Although change is complex and each situation is different, change does follow certain patterns. Understanding these patterns gives managers the knowledge they need to plan change effectively. Managers are then prepared for what might happen and have some understanding of how to respond.

For example, people generally resist change, so understanding the phases they typically go through is useful, together with some ideas of how to encourage change and prevent people from slipping back to their old ways. Inertia is difficult to overcome and effort is always required at the outset to get things moving in the right direction.

Managers should also expect there to be unforeseen consequences in any change management process. Destabilising an organisation and introducing new ideas and ways of working will prompt some people to react in unexpected – and maybe irrational – ways. It is predictable that change won’t go quite as planned. If managers are aware of this they can be prepared to address new issues as they arise. Even the unpredictable is predictable!


Soft skills are vital for success

Change management is most successful when people see the purpose in changing and participate willingly in the process. Unfortunately there is no one right way to engage everyone – people are different and different approaches appeal to different people.

Whilst managers don’t require a deep understanding of psychological processes, they do need to use all their soft skills to influence people and keep things moving in the right direction.

At its simplest, the advice can be summed up as “communicate, communicate, communicate.” As a manager, you understand much about the reason for change and what is needed. The change programme may be taking a major part of your time – but for your staff, it may be a secondary and distant process and may feel irrelevant to them. You need to keep reinforcing the message and listening for feedback.

Change management: it’s more complex than it first appears but, fortunately, it follows certain predictable patterns and one of the best ways to ensure success is to use your soft skills to encourage people during a period of change.

Change Management for Leaders and Managers

To learn more about Change Management, including many practical tools and insights, read Andy Turnbull's book "Change Management for Leaders and Managers: A Guide to Managing Change in Organisations."

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