5 actions to take during change at work

06 June 2019 -

Change management Change management is tricky, but if you prepare well, you can get through it, say these Chartered Managers

Change management continues to be a very tricky part of the work that managers do. According to an article by N. Anand and Jean-louis Barsoux published in the Harvard Business Review, three quarters of change management projects fail, either through a lack of completion, or not delivering on the benefits they hoped they would achieve.

The main problem, the authors argue, is that managers often don’t fully define what it is they want to change. In particular, it’s the order of what needs to change that businesses often get wrong: “When companies don’t choose their transformation battles wisely, their efforts have a negative effect on performance.”

Yvonne Harkness CMgr FCMI AICSA and John Scivier MSc CMgr FCMI FInstLM, both shortlisted for Chartered Manager of the Year, have managed change management projects throughout their careers – Harkness through various management roles at the Student Loans Company and at universities in Scotland, Scivier through his career in the Royal Navy, and the business that he runs with his wife. Both have developed their own approaches to managing change effectively. Here are their five crucial steps to take during change periods.

1. Know why change is taking place

The most important factor about how you go about managing the change is understanding why the change is taking place, Scivier explains. You must question the rationale behind the change.

“Is it your change (and have you consulted with your team) or is it top-down driven? If the latter, is the change a sensible one or is it an autocratic one that is actually unworkable and unnecessary?”

Scivier suggests a list of questions that you need to answer before moving forward:

  • Is change necessary?
  • Who is driving the change?
  • What has necessitated the change?
  • Who is implementing the change?
  • When does the change need to take place?
  • What will the change look like?

2. Get a plan in place

Harkness says that you need to have your own vision in place to keep in your head as you manage the change. This may not be something that you share with others, but it will help you to maintain focus when things get difficult.

“You need to know where you’re going and have a plan to get there. In most circumstances, you’ll need amazing tenacity and resilience, because you’ll hit moments where you think: “am I getting anywhere with this?” You’ll hit resistance and walls, but eventually you’ll get past it. It’s an obstacle course, and you need to find your way through.”

3. Engage your team early

If the change is forced upon you and your team, or it appears unnecessary by your people, the more difficult the change process will be. Lack of acceptance, resistance and apathy will all by forces against you that need to be overcome. To minimise the impacts of this, you need to communicate often and early, particularly why the change is taking place, and what it hopes to achieve. This will be more tricky if you don’t believe in the changes yourself – you need to rationalise your own feelings before you take it to your team.

“As a driver of a change programme, I would have to ensure that the reasons for doing it sat right with me, says Scivier. “It is very difficult to implement a change if you are sure, in your own mind, that it is clearly wrong. There are of course some situations where your heart is against a decision to change but your head knows that the change needs to take place. This has often been the case in my military career, particularly on operations.

“An ability to change the change programme as and when required to smooth or improve the process is essential but when doing so, update key personnel as often as is necessary.”

4. Collect data

If you’re going to make progress when managing change, you’re going to have to be able to back up your arguments. “You need to outline the problem you’re solving, and have a very empirical reason for doing what you’re doing,” says Harkness. “The wider the change you’re trying to introduce, the more you’ll need that data, that evidence base, for what you’re doing. So that it’s not you arguing to do something, it’s (in my world) a percentage of students or tutors arguing for it.”

5. Repeat

“Managing change is all about a continual loop of talk, listen, plan, talk, listen, execute, talk, listen, evaluate until the change is complete,” Scivier explains. “Complex at times, yes. Rocket science – probably not.”

6. Bonus action: use the resources available to you

Harkness has found organisations such as CMI and her professional network to be invaluable sources of information and support when things have got tough. “All of those resources and people will be very useful when you take on new challenges, so maintain them. The resources and network that CMI had given me have been amazing. I’ve used them throughout my career.”

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