Change is a constant for companies operating in today’s fast-moving world. “Today’s dynamic environment adds an extra level of urgency and complexity,” notes McKinsey & Co. “Companies must increasingly react to sudden shifts in the marketplace, to other external shocks, and to the imperatives of new business models,” But research shows that most change management efforts fail, which can impact everything from an organisation’s revenue to retention.
The most successful change management programmes “put the human factor at the centre of proposed changes,” according to BetterUp. “An effective change management process guides the organisation and all the people involved. It helps them get out of the current state, through the transition phase, and into the future state.”
What is change management?
At its most basic, change management is the management of changes that will affect employees within an organisation or business. These changes could be anything from an acquisition or merger, implementation of new technology or systems, to an initiative to enact a broader cultural change. Change management includes the strategies and processes companies use to gain employee buy-in and ensure the transition goes smoothly.
Change management challenges
McKinsey & Co found that 70% of all change management programmes fail to achieve their goals, a figure that’s been repeatedly borne out by subsequent research. The key reasons why change management efforts fail? Employee resistance and a lack of management support. “If you want your team to accept change, they need to know why it’s happening, what the benefits will be, and how their role will change as a result,” says Jane Sparrow, who writes about leadership and its role in organisational culture for Forbes.
There are many barriers to change management, mainly that people are naturally resistant to change. Simon Calvert, Head of Strategy at Merkle, says, "There are very few people who actively embrace change, because of the fear of failure, loss and the unknown that is written through it. It is one of the biggest challenges for any change project". It's crucial to communicate effectively with your people and lean into transparency in order to help your people understand the reason and rationale for organisational change. Problems with change management start as soon as your people feel left behind. While 74% of leaders say they invovled employees in creating change strategy, only 42% of employees feel they were being truly included, according to Gartner.
What is the impact of unsuccessful change management?
The failure of change management programmes can have serious consequences, impacting the entire organisation. Tim Creasey, a globally recognised leader in change management, says that the costs of unsuccessful change management can include plunges in productivity, attrition of valued employees, and reduced quality of work, which may impact customers and suppliers, as well as the morale of remaining employees. “Many of these impacts extend well beyond the lifecycle of a given project,” Creasey continues. “A legacy of failed change presents a significant and ever-present backdrop that all future changes will encounter.”
What is a good change management process?
Leaders must gain employee buy-in for change management efforts to be successful. Research shows that change is 30% more likely to stick when employees are truly invested in the change. How do leaders gain buy-in from their teams? First, they need to involve them in change conversations in a truly meaningful way and communicate their visions. In successful transformation efforts, notes HBR, executives use all existing communication channels to broadcast the vision.
Then, leaders need to be constantly monitoring change and gathering data on an organisational and team level, and the effects that it is having, says Sparrow. Tools such as Rungway allow leaders to engage their employees in these conversations at scale, gain buy-in, as well as measure and analyse the progress of their change management programmes in real time. “What’s resonating, what needs more attention, and what really isn’t working and needs a rethink or scrapping altogether?” says Sparrow. These are all questions that need to be asked if you want to manage change efficiently and agilely.”
Assess their readiness
How receptive are your workforce to change? Could you identify who your change champions are, and who your resistors are? What are your barriers to successful change management?
Assessing these factors is crucial to putting your strategy together and understanding how to go about getting buy-in. Most companies are not doing this as they don’t have the tools, or the know-how.
Town halls, surveys and focus groups only tell part of the story, and don’t give you key information you need to know. You’re only hearing what people are willing to tell you and there’s not an easy way to collate this information to give you tangible data and a follow-on action plan.
To assess resistance levels and how they change throughout time, you need a mixture of polls and surveys to show a moment in time, but also to be able to take a real-time temperature gauge of your people.
Surface voices you don’t usually hear
The traditional methods of communication favour the ‘louder voices’ - people who are confident to speak up in a team meeting of 100 people, raise their hand in a town hall or email a senior member of staff directly.
This doesn’t give you the real story within your organisation. Leaders need to accept that there are quieter voices, and we need to be going to their spaces to listen up.
This is where psychological safety comes in. When there’s a safe place to talk within an organisation, people will. On Rungway, which provides this environment, people of colour post 3x as many questions, thoughts and opinions than their white counterparts. Women also ask 30% more career questions and post 50% more on wellbeing.
Understand the full picture
Only when you have all the evidence and data can you understand the true landscape of your business. Through assessing readiness, and promoting a more inclusive culture through psychological safety, you’re seeing more nuances of people’s different lived experiences.
Ideally, having a forum in place like Rungway which allows 2-way communication between leadership, employees and peers means that not only can businesses see what’s going on, but be involved in the discussions to dig deeper. By cultivating these connections, it’s much more likely that an understanding can be reached on issues that could cause challenges, and resistors move into a more neutral stance, or even become advocates of the changes taking place.
Armed with data, more empathy and a deeper connection to your people, you can react much faster and deliver higher impact results.
Here’s a real-life example on Rungway. An employee of a client posted to request sanitary towels in the work toilets. This opened up a discussion around difficulties women face around periods, even involving senior male members of staff. The next day sanitary products could be found in the female bathrooms.
It’s likely there will be challenges or concerns that arise that you weren’t even aware of. By having the right tools in place, creating an open culture with psychological safety, you’ll hear more of what you need to know - and be able to do something about it.