The rate of innovation in the modern world is increasing exponentially. Our connected world continuously overlaps people of different backgrounds and everly increases the flow of information. The constant spark of ideas from myriad combinations disrupts perspectives and practices, driving the pace of change across industries to go faster.
Businesses are more than ever pressed to adapt to emerging situations, whether they are changes in the economic landscape, technology, regulations, laws or competitors. The inability of a company to evolve amidst these challenges only leads to two horrible paths: stagnation or collapse. We have seen this in action over the last two years—companies who failed to adapt during Covid were all left behind.
A generic organisation has implemented at least five significant company-wide changes in the past three years. About half of these change initiatives fail, which points out the importance of a knowledge base for planning, coordinating and implementing changes. Whether the new solution is a tiny tool rollout or a comprehensive restructuring, an effective change management process in place is necessary.
Change management is the strategic and systematic process of guiding any kind of organisational change to completion. To understand the concept of change management, let us first examine the term organisational change and explore the common reasons that deem organisational change imperative.
Organisational change is a broad term best viewed as a spectrum of incrementation and complexity. On one end, there are the small changes over time, and then there’s the big disruptive changes on the other end:
May it be an adaptive or transformational change in an operational method, technology infrastructure, business framework, company culture or objective, organisations almost always fail in implementation when there is no proper change management process in place.
Poor change management always results in low adoption, poor implementation, workplace anxiety and backsliding to old work habits. Think about the cost and effort you had to initially invest, the delays and downtime a poor implementation precipitates, and the no-return-on-investment. These are expensive consequences you want to avoid, which are exactly the things you considered and why you initiated change in the first place. You just cannot risk failing at effecting a change. Remember these changes are company-wide so when you keep foiling, employees will ultimately stop believing any change will be effected and ignore any of your attempts. This is when your organisation stagnates and stops being relevant. Mitigate the risk and avoid getting sucked into a stagnation spiral with an effective change management process.
Modern management thinking emerged in the 1930s, an era marked by great economic and political turmoil that built up to the Second World War. Our idea of the modern organisation is predicated by military history, which was the demonstrated model in coordinating groups and networks of people to accomplish tactical goals. Although humans have been self-organising throughout history, it was war that brought about the first extensive resource mobilisation in an organisational manner.
During industrialisation, we used the same model to coordinate huge groups of people towards a common production goal. The military model proved efficient for this kind of corporate organisational structure. This is what formed our view of organisations as mechanistic, with the organisation seen as a machine with prime importance placed on corporate needs. Individuals responsible for making the machine work were nothing but ‘human resources’ that the company can replace when they are no longer useful.
Our poor understanding of change management is rooted in this mechanistic view of management. When a change needs implementation, organisational discussions revolve around the ‘what’ of the change. Managers and business leaders can go on about operational processes, work flows, organisational structures, systems and frameworks for hours. This process-driven approach has them forgetting the most crucial element in a successful implementation: the individuals involved.
By the end of the 20th century, the concept of competition moved away from productivity, efficiency and output. To be competitive in the information age, creativity, innovation and purpose became the currency. Corporate thinking and structuring switched to a more employee-centric approach. To capitalise on creativity and innovation, organisations needed to create an environment that nurtured and empowered employees’ resourcefulness, imaginative problem-solving, collaborative inventiveness.
This brings us to the ‘why’ and ‘how’ elements of change management. For any change on an organisational level, understanding the details of what needs to change is just one part of the story. Knowing the ‘why’ and ‘how’ is the bigger and more important chunk. When your employees know why a change is happening and how their roles play an important part in the transition, you are already on your way to a successful change.
A team-centric change management process ensures you have engaged employees ready to align themselves to achieve common goals. Whatever changes you may face along the way, you have a team that can navigate dynamic situations and adapt accordingly.
Have a central hub for all important knowledge related to organisational change. Make sure that this centralised place allows you to document and create an inventory of different past, ongoing and future organisational changes and processes involved. Define the purpose of the platform and outline the changes you are facilitating. Ideally, have a space for each ongoing change that details the reasons for the change and the modifications or transformations happening. To ensure that changes are tracked and seen to implementation, making this repository accessible company-wide is important.
As the term ‘purpose age’ has become a buzzword in recent years and as we enter its era, you probably have heard the cliche, “never forget your why.” When it comes to your change management process, this saying also applies. Humans are creatures of habit and when confronted with change, human reaction does not depend on logic. Even the most rational among us will have an emotional, instinctive reaction. For your teams to process changes kthat you need the organisation to achieve, it is instrumental to explain why you are carrying out said changes. Clearly document your “why” in a designated space in your hub that everyone can access and share for a clearer understanding why things are happening.
For change to be realised and accepted company-wide, messaging should be aligned across departments and teams. Coming out of a meeting, it would be easy to assume that all managers and leaders understand a particular messaging. However, we all have experienced at least one team leader deviating and delivering a message to his department in a completely different way. A smart way to mitigate this risk is to require your leaders to use a template for sharing the message.
Giving your teams a designated space where they can openly share concerns and ask questions decreases anxieties and fears associated with perceived uncertainties during a period of change. This fosters an environment of inclusivity while providing opportunities for feedback and to be proactive.
Change can present opportunities despite unwelcome consequences. When the world shifted to remote work during the global health emergency, we have witnessed how technologies made for remote collaborations gave rise to richer idea generation and paved the way for the era of hyper-innovation. Remind your teams that there are innovation ideas waiting to be discovered in every obstacle encountered during a change.
Organisational change takes place when team leaders are actively monitoring and sensing changes happening within the team and organisation level, and adapting accordingly and their actions. In this way, change is managed in an agile and efficient manner.
As a leader, you are your team’s compass when it comes to reacting to new situations in the workplace. If your actions do not align with the new vision, you can’t require them to. Expect the change to fail.
For a change management process to be effective, always keep in mind the value of what you believe in, your teams’ behaviour and the tools available to stitch everything together. Knowing what needs to change and why are important so you can build trust within your team.
A knowledge management software bridges the gap between the why, what and how of your organisational change. It allows you the platform to keep all change management related knowledge that everyone can go to retrieve and innovate on information when they need to be reminded about the company’s ‘what’ and ‘why’. It also provides a space for communication and feedback. You can use templates for standardised messaging and reporting. Using a knowledge management tool like Elium will motivate and facilitate your teams’ commitment to change.