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Making the change management process work

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They say that the only constant is change, and in change the only constant is resistance! Resistance to change is perfectly natural, which is why change needs to be managed.

Just as a car takes a lot of pushing to get it moving in order to overcome the inertia, so an organisation will need a significant amount of energy to start moving along a path of change. If you stop pushing the car when it’s moving, then, sure enough, the friction built into the system, as the rubber hits the road, will mean that the car will grind to a halt.

When the change process has begun in an organisation, there are also natural forces of resistance which will need to be continually overcome if the organisation is to keep moving along its change pathway.

The leaders need to set off a chain reaction of activity – painting a picture to their immediate senior team, setting up a change management project team who in turn create initiatives to move the wider organisation in the planned direction, supported by change champions and key stakeholders. People who can see what’s in it for them will willingly cooperate, whilst those who feel alienated, distant and out of the loop will at best not hinder the change and at worst actively undermine it.

The role of a leader is to ensure that there is a good change management process in place, to act as the sponsor of the change management programme, to communicate the vision and present a meaningful and persuasive business case, giving the context for the change and painting a compelling, clear and inspiring vision of the future.

The other inevitable results of any change programme, however well-planned it is, are the unforeseen and unintended consequences. These unintended consequences simply cannot be planned away. The best that can be hoped for is to cover the obvious and most significant issues in the planning and be ready to be agile and adaptive as the messy and unpredictable process of rolling out change gets underway.

The change process is a journey into the unknown, it is disturbing the equilibrium of a settled system and the system will react as it chooses. Ultimately people and organisations change when they are ready to change and when they are not, they resist it. A readiness to change may exist because people can see the opportunities that lie ahead and have been waiting for this moment, or things may be going so badly wrong that it is blindingly obvious to everyone that something needs to be done differently! Just because the decision-makers can see a need for change, it does not mean that the organisation has a readiness to change.

Given that there are so many challenges to change, what is the best way to start? The answer seems to be to start small. Don’t plan a huge programme of change and then wonder why it is so difficult to implement. Start small, gain some traction and build from there. Test the appetite and readiness for change and build some credible successes. Be realistic – it will take longer and need more resources than you first think. It will be more complex than you expect. You will discover new things about the organisation as you go. Keep leaders involved and engaged in the change process as it rolls out – remember people will observe their commitment or lack of it.

And finally, enjoy the ride!

Download our eBook “Change Management for Leaders and Managers” in which Andy Turnbull guides you through the steps of creating an effective change management programme.