Organization and team development, if done correctly, can drastically improve the performance of a company and improve the overall work environment. With the right organizational leadership skills, you can get your team on board and moving in the right direction. Without the proper strategy and skill set, the change(s) can slow down, cause unintended adverse consequences, and sometimes prove to be counter-productive. In this article, we touch on the importance of leading organizational change and how it can help your company continue to grow.

Over time, every company grows, adapts, transitions, or makes major changes to their strategy, structure, business focus, and internal dynamics. This could be due to personnel changes, entering new industries, growth, or company mergers. In our experience, most change is driven by the marketplace, which is in constant flux. When senior management initiates change, their intent is to improve organization performance. During these times, it is essential to understand the change process, the predictable dynamics associated with the change and engage the people in the process as early as possible.

While this all sounds rather obvious, it is surprising how often the senior team fails to clarify the objectives of the change, accept the issues or challenges driven by transformation, and focus on the most important element of the process: communication. Leading organizational change ensures that those changes you’ve made to your company help it continue to grow and ultimately succeed.

What are the Steps in the Organizational Change Process?

The specific nature of leading organizational change may be different in every circumstance. However, there are some fundamental strategic steps that we have developed and implemented for over 25 years in client organizations to maximize the success of the change(s). For clarity, let’s focus on changes that are likely to create uncertainty, ambiguity, and perhaps even a threat to the employee population at the outset, such as productivity improvement efforts (downsizing, off-shoring, outsourcing), relocation strategies, new organization models/structures, changes in mission, roles and responsibilities. To begin, the initial focus on can be broken down into five general steps:

  1. Prepare the Company for the Change: In this step, the individual or team leading the organizational change begins communicating with managers and individual contributors in a manner that helps them understand why change is needed and raising awareness of various struggles or challenges that the company is facing due to a lack of change. In the long term, this helps reduce team member resistance to change in the future.
  2. Develop the Plan for Change: Here, company management delves into the logistics of leading organizational change and begin developing a plan that will achieve the company’s overall goals.
  3. Implement the Plan: This is the point in which the plan is put into action. It’s important that while leading organizational change, managers are constantly evaluating the progress of the plan so that they can mitigate issues and respond to challenges before they become overwhelming. In an effort to do this well, many organizations make the mistake of going too slowly – the impact is like tearing a bandaid off too slowly – it causes unnecessary pain.
  4. Ensure the Plan Becomes Rooted in the Company’s Culture: After the organizational change has been put into place, it’s important to make sure that team members do not backslide into old practices.
  5. Analyze the Results: There will likely be a point where the company will need to implement organizational change again in the future. It’s incredibly helpful to take note of what worked or didn’t work while implementing changes so that you’ll know what to work towards or avoid in future projects.

Initial Steps in the Process

Once the specific change(s) are identified and agreed upon, it is critical to consider the goals of the change process itself. We believe that these should focus on taking steps to:

  1. Minimize the potential initial downturn in productivity driven by the change; ignoring this impact (called “denial”) can be a serious error in judgment.
  2. Maximize retention of key or critical employees during the process. The key players are often those with the most opportunity in the external marketplace.
    Plan to communicate, communicate and communicate.

How Do You Get Team Members to Accept Organizational Change?

The best way to get team members to accept organizational change is to engage them early and often in the process, keeping them involved at every step once the decision to implement has been taken. This means that you communicate the need for change early – clarify why it is necessary, the link to marketplace dynamics, how it will affect them, and the longer-term benefits (“vision”) of where the change will take the firm. This allows team members to offer suggestions, provide feedback, and circulate ideas.

Understanding the predictable dynamics of change at both the individual and organizational levels is critical. Employees initially concerned about job security are not focused on the “strategic value-added” by the change. Tailoring communications to adjust for peoples’ emotional phase of transition is key to success, as well as recognizing that people will not move through the process at the same pace.

In terms of engaging people, it’s not enough to simply let team members express their opinions –leading organizational change requires leveraging methods to structure communications to maximize impact, provides tools and techniques to help people at all levels learn to adapt, responds to that feedback, and prompts discussion as to why a certain proposal will or will not promote progress. Leveraging “change leaders” at all levels can be very helpful; these are often not the organization’s “best managers.” Finally, it’s important to ensure that your team members are fully trained to begin working in the new environment and are rewarded for fully embracing those adaptations. This prevents individuals from becoming frustrated with the changes or encourages to continue working towards acceptance of the change. By the same token, those who actively (or covertly) resist the changes must be held accountable for results.

How do you Manage the Change when Leading an Organizational Change?

When leading organizational change, the most important thing that every leader needs to keep at the forefront of their mind is the overarching ‘big picture’ that the organization is shooting to achieve. Continually communicating the end game is important during turbulent times of uncertainty. Consequently, all subsequent actions and changes that the leader takes should be positioned in a manner that helps support that big picture, but recognizes that, at least initially, people will make mistakes and that is okay – it is part of the process. One senior manager once stated that, “if we’re not making some mistakes, we are going too slow”.

When leading organizational change, it’s important that you are organized, and use creative thinking and intuition to adequately respond to challenges, allocate resources, and measure the likely success or failure of various actions. At the end of the day, it is going to be up to the leadership team driving the organizational change to direct, respond, delegate, design, and modify the process of implementing these organizational changes.

What Cultural Forces must be Considered when Leading Organizational Change?

Company culture and status quo can be one of the biggest obstacles that individuals face when implementing organizational change. There are two ends of the corporate culture spectrum: values and beliefs at one end (can be difficult to spot and hard to change) and behaviors at the other end of the spectrum (often easier to spot and change – note the term “easier” here does not mean “easy” in all cases). We suggest focusing on the desired behavioral shift required to make the changes work effectively.

Does the corporate culture encourage client focus, fast response, work-life balance, respect for others, perfection in decision making, tolerance of mistakes, speed, risk-averse behavior, team ethos, star performers, “nice” people, aggressive, win at all costs approach? To implement successful change initiatives, it’s essential to identify cultural strengths within the company and use those strengths for leading organizational change. More importantly, specific, “cultural bad habits” – habits which at one time encouraged but have now become necessary to change – are clarified, taught, and rewarded. In other words, your change initiative needs to incorporate clarity of the desired behavioral shift(s) required for people to succeed to ensure a smooth and successful transformation.

How can Lynn Reed Associates help you Learn to Lead Organizational Change Successfully?

At Lynn Reed Associates, we have years of experience working with senior management to develop and implement successful changes. Our role is not to define the specific nature of the change(s), but rather, to assist in developing and implementing successful communication around the change(s). This is one of the most difficult leadership challenges in our experience, but once mastered, can lead to a very high level of engagement and success. We can work with your team to build a strong foundation that promotes communication, creativity, and critical analysis – skills that your team can carry with them for years to come. Contact us today to learn more about leading organization change today.