Change – An Opportunity to Thrive
“The 33-year average tenure of companies on the S&P 500 in 1964 narrowed to 24 years by 2016 and is forecast to shrink to just 12 years by 2027.”
This is one of the outcomes of a recent study on industry change, mergers and acquisition activities and disruptive start-ups, raising questions around what change management actually means.
Whether the change will be a result of internal company initiatives, a merger, a leadership idea or a market condition shift, the fact is that the average corporate lifecycle is declining rapidly – all due to inevitable change that most companies didn’t see coming.
Creating the change
With the abovementioned statistics in mind, it is clear that today it is not enough to react to change. Companies need to be ready; they must anticipate in order to stay one step ahead and so understand how to create opportunities pro-actively and make the most of internal and external transformations.
Regardless of the scope of the challenge ahead and any levels of resistance, they even need to be able to take advantage of occurrences, which are beyond their control; this entails fighting resistance and overcoming hindrances in order to master the situation.
This is also one of the reasons why the projects MindForest deals with are so varied and individually tailored. Depending on the sector and the specific challenge to be addressed, tools and methods have to be adjusted to meet the ambitions and goals of the change project.
A human-centric approach
It is vitally important to understand that no change can occur without buy-in and support from the management. It is not enough to address a transformation by implementing tools and methods to obtain and measure results. The management needs to centre their attention on the people leading, executing and experiencing the change with a particular focus on all the stakeholders, who are impacted and will have to live with the change afterwards.
In a human-centric approach to change, management speaks with one voice and models the desired change and behaviours. Senior management works alongside all middle managers and team leaders, HR, teams and employees to ensure the success of the transition. With a strongly communicated vision, they ensure buy-in and understanding, which in turn serves to minimize resistance and objections. They work together with the stakeholders instead of imposing their ideas and giving directive orders.
In direct alignment with this approach, an exchange with feedback loops is encouraged to understand any obstacles the change project might incur in order to counteract them and adjust accordingly.
This voice of the team empowers them to feel part of the change initiative and empowers them to provide their input; thus they will be more willing to commit to the company’s long-term vision.
Clarity around vision
Regardless of the size or complexity, change projects have another thing in common: the starting point for any change project should be a clear, compelling, concise definition of the change and its vision with no room for uncertainty, individual perception or interpretation. The need for the change needs to be clearly explained and a feeling of common purpose should be built around the overall vision to ensure that all affected stakeholders (regardless of their hierarchical level) understand their place and their contribution to the project.
Change doesn’t come easy
Once a clear understanding has been ensured, the next hurdle has to be addressed: change doesn’t come easy.
In one way or the other, we can all find examples of times when we have reluctantly had to change. Sometimes the resistance was easy to overcome, sometimes we were surprised by the opposition, given that we only had access to the tip of the iceberg vision, we had to dig much deeper to understand the underlying protest and fundamental hostility.
Keeping the challenge of change and emotional reactions of the Kübler-Ross change curve in mind, the emotions that are evoked need to be allowed, addressed and accepted as a means of supporting and encouraging all individuals at the different moments they experience distress, this is because we all react differently at different times.
Involve and create ownership
One way to address the distress most people experience when faced with change, is to ensure high individual involvement and a feeling of responsibility for a certain part of the success of the project.
As the transition progresses, its impact on different levels of the company will be substantial, for this reason involvement at each level is crucial as the transformation cascades through the organisation. Stakeholders in the whole company should be implicated, for example in problem analysis and solution finding, in order to keep them motivated to support and promote the change – especially during the tougher moments.
Such a high level of involvement needs to be supported, this is why it is also essential to create a feeling of responsibility for the project throughout the organisation. Not only the leaders need to bear this responsibility; it should be shared with all stakeholders by creating a feeling of ownership in the areas they influence and/or control.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
The longterm sustainability of a company depends on a great variety of factors, many of which are beyond our control, for example market fluctuations, pandemics, etc.. Therefore it becomes all the more important to ensure that those factors we can influence really are taken into consideration. In a team where interaction and mutual respect are highly valued and woven into the company DNA, the sum of the individuals will encourage it to achieve great things and to go that famous extra mile – that is invaluable for any company and should never be forgotten.
All too often, management makes the mistake that they believe everyone can read their minds and understand the issues they are dealing with. When a need for change is clear to them, it is imperative that this should also be clear to everyone else.
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, which is why from the beginning to the end of a transformation project – regardless of its size and complexity – communication is key.
Ideally primary messages should be reinforced with inspirational, regular and timely communication and advice.
When dealing with change, it is almost impossible to over-communicate! It is crucial to ensure that targeted information is communicated via the right channels and at an appropriate moment, thus creating space for a dialogue to solicit input and feedback from the affected teams and individuals.
Think about the culture
Change often picks up on speed and intensity throughout the transition period, for this reason both formal and informal cultural aspects need to be considered and their impact on the success of the project needs to be addressed.
In other words, overall openness to change needs to be analysed and addressed to identify conflicts, obstacles and resistance in good time.
That said, it is also important to draw on the company culture, its core values, behaviours and perceptions to serve as a common baseline, to increase the feeling of belongingness and loyalty among staff end encourage them to engage in and help drive the change forward.
Change as an opportunity
Pursuing change takes more than a good idea coupled with appropriate methods and tools.
It requires buy-in and commitment throughout the company, a willingness to change and work hard to guarantee the project’s success.
Companies and leaders who simply manage change as it comes, are doing nothing but trying to avoid threats, but such a reactive approach will inevitably lead to long-term difficulties and the feeling of never quite mastering the situation.
If in contrast change is proactively embraced and based on willingness to shift and adopt a more people-centric and change focused leadership style, management can rise to the challenge, and thus change becomes an opportunity to thrive.
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