Every business will inevitably face changes – whether it’s process updates, system overhauls, or personnel switches. But the challenge is implementing those changes effectively while also getting buy-in from your team. That’s where change management comes into play!
And with all of the recent workplace changes (remote work, virtual events, and new safety protocols), there’s never been a better time to talk about the change management process.
But what exactly is change management? And how (as a business leader) do you make it happen? Here’s what you need to know:
👉 Already know the ins and outs of organizational change management? Skip ahead and start managing your company’s change today. Get the free employee transition procedure template.
What is change management?
Change management is a systematic approach to dealing with organizational change – by focusing on the people side of change. You know, the same people who actually make those changes happen!
Plus, it’s about providing the tools and resources employees need to effectively deal with whatever change your business faces. So, you get the best financial results and prevent the negative symptoms from plaguing your company culture.
In other words, change management is the process of getting employees to buy into what the company should look like in the future. And it makes whatever change you’re going through easier.
At the most obvious level, events that require change management include employee promotions, offboarding, or switching teams. But it can also include massive shifts in the market – like when Uber pivoted from rideshare to delivery service in the face of the pandemic.
But what lots of companies miss is that the change management process is transparent communication. Internally, you need to reach out to your team about what’s happening, hold meetings about what’s to come, and let people know that you’re here for them. Externally, you might want to publish a blog post or press release breaking down what’s happening and why.
Because when change management happens internally and externally, there are no surprises for either party. And as a result, this transparency builds trust and understanding with everyone involved (AKA a huge win for you.)
🔥 Tip: All organizational changes need to be addressed internally. But not all of it needs to be handled externally – just the change impacts your customers or your community.
Why how you manage change matters
When companies don’t even bother trying to manage change, the results can be disastrous. Employee morale and productivity can falter. Clients’ needs can go unmet. And sometimes, your best team members can up and leave your organization entirely.
But when you implement an effective change management plan, it can be the difference between unlocking major growth and resetting your organization.
That’s because when you ace change management, you also:
1. Build a resilient company culture
Most change management strategies miss because they focus on the organizational level. But the actual change happens at the individual level. Meaning, the massive changes that level up your company are the sum of all your individual team members’ efforts to uphold those changes.
That’s because businesses don’t inherently change. It’s the people within the company who actually make that change happen. And without your team members’ buy-in, it’s impossible to embrace change – no matter how big or small.
For example, if you roll out a new way of billing customers and everyone keeps doing it the old way, nothing changes. But if Joe, Abby, and Alex all start doing it the new way, well, now you’re getting somewhere! And a change management plan makes sure that happens by rallying your team around the new way – and holding your team accountable.
2. Avoid hidden costs that add up quickly
When you manage change poorly, running your business gets a lot more expensive. That’s because mishaps like missed deadlines, lack of productivity, unforeseen obstacles, or wasting resources add up quick.
And more often than not, these costs are often hidden or pop up unexpectedly. So, you might not even know – until it’s too late – how much a poor change management strategy (or no strategy at all) is costing your company.
But you can avoid these costs by getting people on board with change quickly and efficiently. AKA before you even start implementing the change.
That way, your people aren’t sitting around, guessing what to do. They have a clear path forward to move on. And compared to waiting to react to change, employees (and customers) are more likely to embrace the change that’s happening. Meaning, no time or resources wasted in the process.
3. Increases your chances for success
A well-executed change management process is the best predictor for successfully rolling out any new initiative, per Prosci.
In fact, an astounding 93% of companies with excellent change management strategies met or exceeded their objectives. Compared to a mere 15% of companies with poor change management plans.
When you invest in organizational change management, that means you’re 6 times more likely to meet or exceed your objectives. But companies with poor change management strategies are still far more likely to succeed than those with no strategy at all. So, it’s better to have something in place than nothing at all.
🔥 Tip: Part of building an excellent change management strategy is making sure everyone knows how your company manages change. Build your strategy in Trainual, so everyone is trained on your strategy before you need to use it. Try for free.
Change isn’t managed overnight
To understand the change management process, we thought who better than Uber to dish how it’s done. In the last 3 years alone, the company has gone through a CEO change and rethought its entire business model amid the pandemic.
In an exclusive interview at Training With Empathy, their Head of People Development, Becky Karsh, explained that change management happens in stages: denial, resistance, acceptance, and commitment. Not all at once.
And it can take months for some employees to come around to the new ways of doing things. While other people buy-in quickly. But part of rallying your team around change starts with knowing where everyone is at with it.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what each stage looks like (in order):
When a change first takes place, most people’s initial reaction is denial. No, this change is not happening. And it’s usually caused by employees actually believing the change won’t happen – and fueled by shock and confusion.
And it’s an important stage in the change curve because it gives people time to digest what’s happening at their own speed. And then, once they do, they can start dealing with it.
For example, imagine Jamie has always named their documents the same way. But now, your company introduces a new standardized way to name documents.
Chances are good, they think their system is better. It’s always worked, and no one has ever complained about it. So, they’ll think to themselves, why change now? And they’ll assume everyone else feels the same way – so it’s not like anything will change anyway.
In these cases, the best thing you can do is reinforce that the change is, in fact, happening and that everything will be okay. We highly recommend throwing in concrete details about what this change will look like to them personally to make it feel more real.
If you don’t settle these feelings, denial can get in the way of making that change happen. After all, if someone believes something isn’t happening, they obviously won’t be taking any part of it.
That brings us to resistance. AKA when an employee decides that they will “no way, no how” be part of it
For Jamie, this looks like knowing the new process but choosing to do it their own way. Even if their way wastes time or leads to inconsistencies that cost the company more long-term. After all, their way is still better – just ask them.
And while you might assume that resistance is a symptom of sheer opposition to the change, it’s usually not.
More likely, there’s a personal reason at play. The employee (like Jamie) might’ve even received recognition for their way – and they really feel like they own the process.
So, when the change arrives, their success feels threatened. Because what do you mean the old way isn’t good enough anymore?
Or the employee simply doesn’t understand the change. Specifically, why it matters and how they’ll benefit from buying into it. That’s because adult learners come with past experiences and prior knowledge (AKA the old way of doing things).
Meaning, any new knowledge (especially an idea that replaces an existing one) feels inconvenient. And if they don’t know why the new knowledge matters and how it benefits them, they simply won’t bother learning it – let alone doing it.
So, help your team understand what’s happening and why (and make your reason all about them). These small details make a huge difference – and put your team on the fast track toward acceptance.
As long as anyone on your team stays in the first 2 stages (denial and resistance), the change won’t be entirely successful. That’s because not everyone is playing from the same playbook. And you can expect inconsistencies at best and total chaos at worst.
So, the faster you get everyone to accept the change, the better. In a perfect world, you’d be able to skip the first 2 stages. But realistically, that won’t happen – so the next best thing is to get people here as quickly as possible.
And all you really want is for them to try and be part of the change. So for Jamie, this is the point where they see what’s to gain from naming all their documents the same way (not just what they’ll lose). And they’re willing to give the standardized way a shot.
One easy way to see who has actually accepted the change is to roll out what’s happening in a Trainual Subject. Just be sure to include what your team has to gain, when it takes effect, and how to be part of it.
Then, use the backend to see who’s gone through the Subject. This will help you gauge who’s bought into the change (or getting there) and who definitely hasn’t.
For example, if you rolled out the Subject weeks ago, and someone still hasn’t bothered to look at it, you know they haven’t accepted the change. And this is your cue to talk to them and see where they’re at.
Once people accept change, they’re ready to commit. They finally see why the new way is better, and they’re ready to be part of the solution.
And this is when you really start to see the change take shape. That’s because people like Jamie start naming all their documents the same standardized way – even the ones they’re not sharing with the team.
Plus, they encourage other team members to join them in the new way of doing things. Meaning, if Jamie sees someone naming documents another way, they’ll say something. And they’ll explain why the new way is better and check that the person knows how to do it.
From there, it’s a domino effect. Because once everyone is committed to change on an individual level, it can finally happen at an organizational level, too!
🔥 Tip: Make your own change curve based on Uber’s model, and document it in Trainual. That way, your team has a common language to talk through dealing with change. Try for free.
Rallying your team around change
Despite wanting everyone to jump straight to commitment, the reality is it’s a process. And everyone goes through the 4 stages at their own speed.
And while you don’t want to rush people through the change curve (that never goes well), you also don’t want to leave it to chance. Because the longer it takes for everyone to embrace change, the more managing that change costs your company.
So, here are a few easy ways to rally your stragglers around change:
Don’t let empathy get in the way of change
Empathy is part of being a great leader. But it becomes ruinous when it stands in the way of progress. So if you let your team embrace change at their own speed, you’ll likely hit the breaks on the change altogether.
Instead, recognize that any initial resistance comes down to fear of failure – whether it’s on an individual, team, department, or organizational level. And let your team voice what they think might go wrong.
Chances are good you’ll just be settling nerves, but you might also find an obstacle you didn’t plan for. Then, reinforce that it’s okay to fail – as long as you learn from it and jump right back.
Train for resilience
Navigating change is in many ways synonymous with resilience. And just like empathy and leadership, resilience is a trainable skill.
But how do you train your people to become resilient? You encourage more change, more often. Because when you face change head-on, you come out stronger on the other end (even when the changes don’t go as planned).
And according to Becky, “the more change you go through, the higher your appetite for change, the more resilient you become, and the more strength you have against these types of changes.”
Start by optimizing one process at a time – focusing on the ones guaranteed to positively impact your business. That way, when a massive change (like a pandemic) hits, your employees feel more prepared.
Be transparent about change
Change is scary enough – without being blindsided. And the less your team knows, the bigger and hairier the change feels. So, give your team transparent and regular updates on what’s happening.
Meaning, start communicating the change as soon as you know it’s happening – even if it’s months out. Be sure to explain exactly what is happening and how long it will take. Change is easier to deal with if it doesn’t feel like it will go on forever.
Then, set up a weekly meeting to give open and honest updates about what’s going on. That way, everyone is always aligned on what’s happening.
Measure the results
Admittedly, managing change is easier once you’ve “been there, done that.” Because on the other end, you can see all the good that comes from it.
So, once you shake everything up and the dust finally settles, measure how far your company has come. Ideally, this would be hard data that proves that the new way is safe, more efficient, or more profitable.
But you can also use soft data like the company as a whole is healthier for everyone, the culture is stronger, and the people are less burnt out.
Whatever way you decide to measure this change, communicate the results to your team (yes, this should be the last update). Good or bad. Being on the side of change and seeing that things are fine will make your people more likely to embrace change faster next time around.
We even like to build a Trainual Subject that talks about how our organization and processes evolved. That way, new hires who weren’t there for it feel that same confidence the next time we’re up against change.
Because while we can hope that another change won’t come from seemingly nowhere, we know that change is the only constant we can rely on. And the only way to really make the most of it and come out stronger is to have everyone embrace it head-on.