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Riding the Waves of Change
By Mark Hordes

Change management initiatives often encounter rough waters because the organization asks employees to do something differently. Furthermore, initiatives muddy the water when change management processes and tools aren't aligned and integrated into the overall project initiative.

Organizations can take steps to help employees take to change as a duck takes to water. Before delving into how to implement change initiatives that increases your organization's chance of success, it's important to define it to get everyone on the same page. Change management is a process in which an organization involves the workforce in the change. The organization identifies any resistance to reduce it, increases the ownership and buy-in with leadership support and makes communications and training a priority.

PREPARING FOR RESISTANCE
Resistance to change is almost always a certainty. Organizations that prepare for it drastically lessen its effects. Conducting a readiness for change survey and holding focus groups to identify potential resistance are good ways to minimize resistance.

The two most common questions that come out of these activities are "What's in it for me to go along with the change?" and "What will not change?" Addressing both issues calls for setting up a communications system especially prior to starting any change effort. Some companies set up hotlines to address questions and rumors, some run town hall meetings and some send email blasts or newsletters or post answers to frequently asked questions online on the company website or bulletin boards.

GAINING LEADERSHIP SUPPORT
Another barrier to change management is the failure of sending leaders, managers and sponsors to training prior to starting a change management initiative. The training helps them understand what they need to do to be role models in supporting the change. When they don't undergo training, the organization will struggle to believe the leaders and management team are committed to the change. Leaders completing the training conduct kick-off training sessions and teach some aspect of the change management training they received.

Organizations need to assign sponsorship at various levels of the organization. These stewards champion the change process particularly when they run into roadblocks. Sponsors must have the tools and change intervention techniques to identify and address issues, be active listeners, ask open-ended questions and turn problem into opportunities.

COMMUNICATING WITH EMPLOYEES
The bulk of change management success involves taking a proactive approach with communication. This determines the effectiveness of ongoing communications, clarity of key messages and frequency of communications. Organizations use the feedback to confirm whether the right people are communicating to the right audience at the right time.

After the effort begins, an organization randomly contacts employees to see how much the workforce knows about the change and its impacts. Organizations have a higher rate of success when sponsors provide progress reports twice a week, listen to employees and process the feedback. These actions show employees that communication and feedback are a valued and positive part of the effort.

MEASURING CHANGE
If an organization can't measure it, then it most likely can't change it. Using a balanced scorecard based on data from the surveys and focus groups is one way to measure change management success. Another way is to track metrics for the different stages of change including calibrating, awareness, understanding, buy-in, engagement and involvement. Establish metrics early on and track them on a monthly basis through the change journey.

Organizations often do change management work without having a measurement process to track the successful accomplishment of milestones. Thus, consider using a highly flexible survey process.

Here's a link to a sample assessment tool for measuring change management progress. You can use the questions from each section of the tool in focus groups, interviews or surveys for assessing progress.

The result is a baseline that illustrates key areas that can make or break a change initiative. With the baseline firmly in place, an organization can make plans to increase areas where results are less than satisfactory, such as communications and engagement. They can accelerate successful areas like sponsorship to gain greater support and visibility through highly engaged sponsorship activities.

SMOOTH SURFING AHEAD
Waves may not always cooperate, but organizations that take a proactive approach to change management catch the wave to success while cutting resistance. Organizations that prepare, involve and equip employees ensure everyone rides the waves of change as they'll have the required tools and training to make it happen.

Mark Hordes is senior vice president and principal with Sinclair Group, a Houston-based operational and organizational excellence consultancy. For more information contact: www.thesinclairgroup.com.

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