Change is hard.

Years ago, I was lucky to have an employer who saw leadership potential in me. They sent me to an eight-week leadership course to help me develop management skills. On the first day of the course, the facilitator asked the group how we felt about change, whether it makes us uncomfortable, excited, anxious, or optimistic. I was surprised to learn that most of the other people in the class, managers who projected competence, confidence, and expertise, felt the same way I did –skepticism and unease.

When you’re the instigator of an organizational or process change, it may not seem so difficult. After all, change can be exciting when it’s a move toward a (hopefully) positive outcome. However, a key mistake managers or leaders make is that they underestimate the emotional connection people have to their work or process. And it’s no wonder – it’s something we do every day. Connection and engagement are important factors to feel happy at work.  

Having a change management strategy can help plan and alleviate some of the pain. “Change management is a methodology to help make change more successful in an organization,” says Lisa Daley, strategic change manager. “It’s the people side of the impact of change. When people are ready for the change, when they understand it and are aware of it, the chance of it actually succeeding is much higher.”

While you don’t necessarily need to be a change management expert to implement a change management strategy, it’s good to know the key elements on how to promote a frictionless process change.

  • Strategize

Having a strategy, and sticking to it, works. According to a benchmarking study, the use of a structured process and tools as the second most important contributor to a change management success, behind (effective sponsorship was first, but we’ll get to that). Correlation analysis shows that change management efforts using a structured approach are more effective and more likely to achieve project objectives.

  • Expect resistance

Whether it’s due to emotional connection, habit, investment in the status quo, or fear, implementing a process change can mess with employees’ sense of security. It’s natural to resist something uncomfortable or unfamiliar. I should know – I’ve had the same haircut for 20 years. Looking at possible sources of resistance before the project starts is a good way to be prepared for it. Be proactive and think about the reasons those sources might object. Then you can address those reasons ahead of time. For example, people who might resist change are people who have worked at the company for a long time. Also, people who project a heavier workload likely will have a hard time with change.

  • Foster a culture of engagement

Creating a culture of engagement doesn’t happen overnight but it can minimize resistance to change. People who feel part of the process or who are involved in decision-making are more likely to adopt a workplace change. Engagement has been linked to increased productivity, lower absentee rates, and higher levels of workplace satisfaction. To encourage positive adoption of change, engagement strategies should include team involvement in decision-making, frequent opportunities to provide feedback, and recognition that acknowledges exceptional work.

  • Communicate

Imagine getting into your car one day and all the functions are in different places. The headlights switch is on the opposite side, the trunk button is on the outside, and, even worse, all the preset radio stations have changed. It’s still the same car but you have to update everything you know about it to make it work.  There may be an excellent reason for these changes but if you weren’t informed ahead of time, it’s jarring, annoying, and you have to relearn how to drive it.

“There’s nothing worse than finding out something has been done to you,” says Daley. Communication is, arguably, the most important element of a change management strategy. This should include pre-deployment to give a heads-up of upcoming changes; deployment, such as launch information, training, and timely help; and post-deployment, like feedback, surveys, and team meetings.

  • Identify champions

Change champions can make or break a painless change integration. Champions are agents of change who understand the organizational vision and are involved in the change management process from the beginning. They either volunteer or are identified to support the change before, during and after its deployment. These change agents can be from any level or department. In fact, it’s important to have company-wide representation. Champions believe in the change and are energized by the potential for improvement. They are key communicators and can address resistance at a staff level.  

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