Conventional wisdom dictates that change is not only inevitable, but it’s also uncomfortable and gives most of us heartburn. But forward-thinking organizations today are adjusting their approach to change.
They have no choice. There’s no such thing as a change-free world. People retire, the price of raw materials fluctuates, and pandemics strike. Technology systems become obsolete and need to be replaced. The nature and types of change that organizations encounter are endless and evolve with time. To be successful for a sustained period of time, organizations must be nimble and adaptable. This means ensuring workforce readiness with an agile approach, one that ensures the organization is ever-prepared to keep pace with rapid–even unpredictable–change.
Change Management Pillars in the Organization
The underlying goal of change management is essentially to transform an organization’s experience of change from chaos to calm, from resistance to acceptance. Today, most organizational change revolves around integrating new technologies, and creating new processes that are enabled by those technologies. However, effective change management needs to focus on all three pillars: People, Process, and Technology.
While all three change management pillars are essential, people are the heart and soul of the organization, and as such, they should have premier importance.
In today’s world, we use technology to improve processes; but changes in process affect the structure of the work, which in turn changes the requirements for the people doing the work. To address one of the change management pillars without consideration of the other two leaves an organization at risk of committing unforced errors. Those errors may extend the overall implementation time and more than likely will also add to the overall cost of the project. Worse, it may cause the project to fail entirely!
At GSX, we’ve seen companies spend thousands—even millions—of dollars purchasing new technologies that they ended up abandoning. The reason: they didn’t take into consideration all three pillars of change management.
For companies with an effective approach to change management, change can be exciting and profitable, and the effort involved is minimal. Hallmarks of successful change management include:
- Increased employee engagement
- Higher productivity
- Absence of chaos/less stress among employees
- A culture where change and innovation are welcome and easily accepted
The People Side of Change
Most often, when change falters or fails in the workplace, it’s because the people pillar was overlooked. Organizations neglect to consider what support they’ll need to provide to enable their employees to adapt to the changes in question. Staff members may need training to learn a new system. There may be process changes required to accommodate new data collection methods or requirements. Maybe staffing changes will be needed be made. Regardless of the nature of the change, there will need to be communication to inform employees.
When these sorts of changes are sprung on people unexpectedly, frustrations mount, trust wanes, and chaos ensues. It’s a self-inflicted wound. This happens because the organization neglected to ask key questions from the outset, like “Who will be affected by this change, and how?” and “Who’s going to be using the new technology, and will they know how?” Tim Creasey at Prosci recommends asking at the outset of any project, “[W]hat percentage of overall results and outcomes depends on employee adoption and usage of the change?”
Too often, organizations think about the people side of change too late, waiting until it’s time to implement the change to inform employees what is changing. This causes employees to feel overlooked and under-informed because it’s in this moment that the organization learns the true impact—the ripple effect—of change throughout the organization and how its employees are both feeling and impacted by the change. The employees are then left to suffer the consequences and figure out how to adapt to the change on their own. In this scenario, change is a major inconvenience, and this is why people resist change.
People-First Approach to Change Management
At GSX, we advocate taking a people-first approach to change management. When there is a change to process and/or technology, the structure of the work changes. The organization needs to be aware of this up-front and understand what accommodations will be required to make the change successful. Questions to ask:
- How will processes need to change to accommodate this technology change?
- Who will these changes affect, and how? What can we do to help them adapt?
- What skills will be needed to integrate/implement this process and/or technology? Do our people currently have them?
Asking these kinds of questions early in the decision-making process informs and allows the organization to see up-front how it can improve change acceptance. It also enables the organization to address any reskilling and upskilling issues as the change is being implemented, instead of waiting until after.
Many organizations miss this vital point. They see the people-side of change management as living downstream in the process. In doing so, they set themselves up for struggles—and maybe even failure—in the form of schedule setbacks, added costs, and employee dissatisfaction.
Take a Fluid Approach to Change Management
Effective change management requires that organizations be both proactive and reactive. They should constantly be surveying the landscape and asking questions to pinpoint what change is needed, when, and most importantly, why. By adopting a fluid approach to change management, they build the tools and cultural foundation to respond appropriately to change that can’t be predicted. (Think COVID.)
Change management isn’t linear, and the change management pillars of People, Process, and Technology aren’t meant to be approached as isolated steps. Touchpoints with employees occur throughout the process. New technologies may require changes in process that will continue to evolve after the technical implementation. The organization needs to be nimble enough to adapt to unexpected hiccups that accompany any change. The best way to do that is to empower its people to take part in the evolution through communication and feedback. And always put them first.
Need help incorporating the change management pillars in your organization? Contact GSX to discuss our consulting approach and how we can help assess your organization’s change readiness.