Marketplace disruptions and transformations are facts of doing business for organizations today. New competitors are using superior technologies and models to meet customer demands, eroding conventional business models in their wake. Seismic shifts in consumer tastes – e.g., sugar is now demonized in many circles as "the new tobacco" – are catching industry segments flat-footed.
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Responding to disruption often requires a change in organization, so organizational change management has become a top competency requirement.
Creating a company culture that embraces change is hard work. It's human nature to resist, or at least be wary of, change. However, it's the job of leaders to prepare their teams for the changes that will come. I learned this firsthand as a lieutenant in the Navy.
As part of the largest operational helicopter squad in the Navy, I was often deployed deep in the middle of geopolitical tensions and conflicts – first in the Gulf War, then Somalia. The squad was constantly training to be ready for change at the drop of a hat. The training was both repetitive and time-consuming, but it paid off later as the routines and procedures became second-nature responses when a threat or "unexpected variable" emerged.
How do my experiences in the Navy apply to business leaders managing change for their organizations? I find that many of the best practices I learned in the military for change management are just as relevant for today's workforce. Here at Anaplan, stories from our own customers in a variety of functions – HR, finance, sales, supply chain, and IT – serve to validate the relevance. Think about the ambiguities, external threats and variables, and new technologies in your own department and organization.
Findings from the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report also support the need for better change management. Ninety-two percent of executives surveyed stated they have plans to redesign their performance management processes, and 78 percent reported their companies are in the process of implementing new systems, as only 7 percent reported having a management system in place already.
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The takeaway for all business leaders: Whether adjusting to a new HR policy, technology platform, process workflow, or even a change to the product itself, leaders have to be smart about how they help employees adapt.
Here are four criteria leaders can use to consistently frame change initiatives:
1. Define Success for the Project
For any new project or initiative, success is defined as "meeting or exceeding the business requirements and goals that were set out at the beginning." Everyone involved and affected has to understand why change is happening, its purpose, and what the deliverables are. Additionally, leaders need to manage the message as they go. They need information to be available to them so they can make decisions quickly and then disseminate that information among all key stakeholders.
Communication is key. No one should be confused about where the project is going.
2. Prepare Leadership and Key Stakeholders
Communication among leadership and stakeholders is also important to ensure that everyone can identify their specific roles. Every project should have a sponsor, someone at the executive level who is responsible for carrying the project through ups and downs. Leaders also need to understand how various constituents come into play. For example, a marketing project may require the involvement of sales, product management, and customer success folks – and they all need to be kept in the loop. Check in often.
3. Promote Readiness for Change
Leaders can promote readiness for change by clearly communicating their visions and inspiring people toward those visions. Executing on a vision that includes readiness for change means that:
- teams receive good training on systems;
- team leaders check in with their members often;
- and mentorship is promoted as a core competency across the organization.
Follow this model. When the change happens, people will be ready.
4. Make It Stick
Change is generally a process, not a bookended event. Once a project is complete, leaders need to keep cycling through to improve it – to optimize the system and keep it moving forward. Don't just walk away.
Far too many "change" projects fail, and these failures cost organizations time and money – not to mention the negative impact they have on employee morale.
However, the secrets to successful change management are simple. As I learned in the Navy, strong leadership, thorough planning, and effective communication can prepare anyone to embrace change.
Scott Guinn is head of finance and workforce solutions at Anaplan.