What is change management? And why should you care?

Something really interesting is happening at salt towers. And it’s to do with the human reaction to the changes we’re seeing in the world.  An […]

Something really interesting is happening at salt towers. And it’s to do with the human reaction to the changes we’re seeing in the world.  An unprecedented number of social issues are coming into the consciousness of our clients’ organisations and brands. Taking a sustainable approach to business has become more nuanced – ESG-led investment anyone? The plastics revolution is well underway, thanks to the humble straw. Harry and Meghan continue to place a spotlight on mental health, the importance thereof and how it’s okay to be vulnerable; being a bit mad has never been more current.

Add to this, Greta, Trump, Britain’s own Trump and indeed Brexit, we have the makings of a horror film. Welcome the World of Change – businesses being invaded by issue after issue that they need to respond and adapt to, and for which no rule book exists.

Unsurprisingly, all this change is creating a huge amount of unrest within organisations. Big, fundamental questions around how to prepare and adapt to the cultural zeitgeist are being raised to the C-Suite. Consumers demand action; employees are voting with their feet and fuelling the gig economy. Finding the answers is proving less easy in a new normal, governed by a rise in social consciousness and driven at speed by the digital world.

Or is it less easy? Change is fundamentally about a shift in the status quo, from what was perceived normal, to a new way of being. Change can be managed back into the comfort zone in three ways: clear leadership, defined guidance for how people should change their behaviours and clarity on the specifics – how these are different today from what they were yesterday.

In our experience, many change programmes fail for four reasons:

The first is poor leadership, where the leader is either unwilling or incapable of painting the future state for stakeholders, leaving the ship rudderless. Without clear leadership, stakeholders start to shout louder and reputational risk grows. With it, democratisation within organisations has never been more enabling. Finding the answers from within will corral support as well as make the grey clearer. Being humble and asking for support can be empowering.

Secondly, the assumption that awareness alone of what should change, will actually result in change. Employees are first and foremost people who think and feel. They need to have a clear sense of ‘what’s in it for me’, why should I change my environment, what are the benefits of the new state of play without me feeling my security is at risk? This is where not engaging with managers can be perilous to change: managers are gatekeepers and if they’re not 100% on board with the change that needs to happen, they can’t bring the rest of the organisation with them. Enter the ‘clay layer’ which can stop even the greatest programmes in their tracks.

The third ingredient for failure is not pre-empting resistance to change. People are fearful of the unknown and there will always be individuals who, understandably, push against change. Rather than ignore or dumb down, anticipate and address. Understand the why, not just the what or the how of the change. It’s within these challenger groups that some gems for how to succeed longer term may lie.

Fourth is more haste, less speed – rushing forward to the next level of change before individuals have come to terms with the first step. This can be frustrating when operating within the whirlwind of the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. However, change has to go through its paces. The change management model we often put into practice is PROSCI’s ADKAR that states individual change is sequential and should happen in the following steps:

Awareness of the need for change.

Desire to participate in and support the change.

Knowledge on how to change.

Ability to implement required skills and behaviours.

Reinforcement to sustain the change.

And if you think about it, it makes sense: you can’t have the ability to do something before you have awareness of the job to be done or desire to do it.

Change needn’t be all consuming or paralysing. The perfect state of managed change can be achieved through a synchronised dance between powerful leadership, skillful project management and making those going through the new normal feel comfortable and therefore in the driving seat. We can’t control all the change in the world, but we can control how our organisations adapt to and manage it.

If you would like to find out more about our work with change management, please get in touch at hellolondon@mullenlowesalt.com.