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Leading Organizational Change Management

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s true in so many ways and, right now, it’s especially true as our Indianapolis business community works through unprecedented time. KSM Consulting’s ExecConnect Forum is a space for executives to come together, meet with a leader, and discuss how to support their organizations, customers, employees, and communities today.

In the April 22nd Forum, Allison Grayson, KSMC Senior OCM Consultant, and Robert Saling, Senior Consultant, discussed what leading organizational change looks like during tumultuous times and how leaders can influence better outcomes through thoughtful organizational change management, before – or even during or after change. A summary of the discussion follows.

What role does leadership play in ensuring that change is successful?
From a change management perspective, leadership is essential specifically to demonstrate critical sponsorship from the top. The number one reason that change tends to fail is associated with a lack of leadership or sponsorship. This can fall into two buckets:

  • Some organizations think that sponsorship is just a person that announces the initiative or is the signature on an email. Really, to sponsor and provide leadership through change management, the executive needs to be involved throughout the process, checking in and establishing two-way dialog.
  • Change leaders need to think about who the right person to serve as the initiative sponsor is. It’s not necessarily the most senior person – although, it often should be the most senior person. The right sponsor is the person who will take an active, engaged role and is respected and influential in your organization, as well as authentic. You want them to be able to empower the organization to drive change – prioritize, remove barriers, allocate resources.

Are success criteria and critical success factors the same as the “why”?
Critical success factors are needed to measure and monitor change over time, but all organizational change management begins with the why. You have to ground in what you are trying to achieve and think through what the pain points or external factors pushing you into the change are. Take a moment to understand why your organization has to adapt and then be honest and transparent about why that is important. The success criteria need to be established so you can measure your progress over time. The criteria are tied to the why but definitely aren’t the same thing.

How do leaders support ongoing external change without losing focus or productivity?
Change, by its nature, is disruptive. Any time you are asking people to change the way they work or what they do, there will be a dip in productivity. That’s just the reality. From the change management perspective, the goal is to right-size the downtime or productivity lull and increase the speed of adoption, usage, and proficiency so people are equipped to be able to act in the ways that you need them to.

One of the things that is important to recognize is that change is a choice. The situation that we are in today; we didn’t have a lot of choice to transition to remote work. For any change though, how individuals engage in that change and how inspired they are to move is about making a choice to accept change and adopt new ways. We need to recognize that not everyone will move at the same rate and then be thoughtful about how we move individuals through the change process.

In many instances, our OCM team leverages Prosci’s ADKAR model for organizational change management. Recognizing that change is individual and a choice, this model gives us stepping stones and a framework to move them through.

  • Awareness: Are employees aware of the need for change? The why? Why now? Addressing this early and often is key.
  • Desire: What will the individual contributor get out of it? Engage them in wanting to be part of this change.
  • Knowledge: What specifically will we ask employees to do differently because of this change? This is the knowledge of what the employee will need to change.
  • Ability: Are they skilled up? Are they ready to go as the change happens? Consider the different kinds of training and support that will be needed, and what path this will require.
  • Reinforcement: Many people think that once you’ve deployed a change, you’re done. This is where a lot of organizations fall down in creating meaningful, sustainable change. Reinforcement includes making feedback loops in the organization and making sure that you’re reinforcing and recognizing good behavior in the new way of working. Reinforcement is critical to get to the long-term, positive impact and make progress toward the success criteria.

If the transition to remote work was challenging, what can we do today to redirect to successful change transition?
Organizations are doing their best and learning and trying to figure this out. This – the remote work and stay-at-home orders – was a very quick transition, and there was no luxury of planning this out for moments. Now is a great time to step back and reflect; take a moment and look back at the transition. Using the ADKAR model can help organize your thoughts and reflection. Begin with an assessment of how your organization did with each step. Consider a few questions and then rate your efforts on each step on a 1-5 scale.

  • Awareness: When you were moving to remote work, were you open and transparent? Did you create lines of communication? Did you communicate over and over and over again? A message takes five to seven times to understand and appreciate the message you are trying to send – did you hit this level of repetition?
  • Desire: Did you take time to emphasize the benefits? Did you introduce more flexible working hours? Did you provide more support options along the way?
  • Knowledge: This is a consideration of all-around expectation setting. As a leadership team, did you reset the expectations to align with remote working? How did the expectations change? What has changed since you have moved remote? Did you provide specifics like when employees need to be available or on video? Did you also help managers through the process so they could help their employees?
  • Ability: The ability to do their job is related to all-around support and technology. Did your employees have the tools they needed to do their jobs and the training needed to use those tools well? Did you help them skill up for how to do their jobs well in a different environment?
  • Reinforcement: Since you’ve been remote working, have you shared best practices? Have you recognized people who have transitioned well? Have you continued the feedback loop with employees? Are you asking them what their challenges are?

When you think about reflecting and how you might be able to redirect, think about how you rated yourself, and begin with anything that was rated three or below. Now, you can lean in and focus on where there is opportunity to improve.

What can organizations do to transition back to the office, in a hybrid or traditional way?
If you have an organization, you should start planning for getting back to work now to be ahead of the game. Consider what our new world looks like. Pull together a taskforce and let people participate in defining how you transition. Other things to consider are what initiatives were put on hold that might need to pick back up. Do goals need to be adjusted? Should we reach out to every client?

As you are planning, also take a moment to identify any pockets of resistance to the transition that might exist. Maybe employees will be nervous to come back. Maybe people will have childcare issues that they didn’t have before. Maybe a team has decided that they loved remote work. It’s important to plan for what policies and accommodations you are willing to put in place for a limited or extended period of time.

Can you use the ADKAR model for unexpected change?
Yes, the ADKAR model will work for unexpected change. You simply have to move through it quickly. It will serve as a framework for being thoughtful about moving employees through the change. There won’t be a three-month roadway for implementing all of it, but you can be thoughtful about being transparent and relevant. It serves as a foundation to consider if you are supporting employees in the way that you need to and if you are training them and providing the resources needed? To use the ADKAR model to create a change management plan, you would simply scale your planning based on the time that you have to get through the change that’s in front of you.

Can you ever have too much change? How much can employees handle?
Change saturation is an absolute thing for individuals and organizations. However, the only thing we can count on is change, and everyone is aware of that as well. To avoid saturation, it’s important to think holistically about all of the change happening in your organization. Take the time to timeline it out and see what is happening across the board and for different teams in each quarter. You’ll begin to see the cumulative ask that you’re placing on groups and sets of employees in terms of changing the way they work, and if it is cumulatively too much at once for them. For instance, five change initiatives happening with a team in the same period might be too many. Consider a few things: are we giving them enough support? Do we have the flexibility to prioritize or space the changes out?

It’s also important to provide the whole story to employees. They won’t want to see one change at a time or one initiative at a time. Help them understand the collective change and how it will be asked of them to provide the whole context to them.

What are one or two things that individuals can go do today?

  1. Take time to reflect on how you have managed change in the past and consider opportunities to shepherd individual employees through that change. Leverage ADKAR if it works for you. If it doesn’t, there are lots of other resources.
  2. Start planning for how to transition back to the office. Get prepared for the rebound in 2020 and think about how you implement that change in a structured, coordinated fashion.

KSMC’s Management Consulting team is available to answer additional questions about organizational change management and to help you begin planning your next initiative. Contact us today to start the conversation.