It was the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who first said, “The only thing that is constant is change.” Today, change is a reality of business. Change has long been a normal part of any organization’s evolution, whether that change is driven by internal or external forces.
In many industries, change is now occurring at a much faster pace, with global competition and modern technology as the key drivers. Mobility and collaboration tools allow for shorter customer response times and faster decision-making. Meetings can be called in minutes. Videoconferencing enables face-to-face communication with participants from anywhere in the world.
The ability to change quickly allows organizations to create competitive advantages by responding to changing marketing conditions and customer needs, adapting existing services and business models, and bringing new services to market faster. It also helps organizations adhere to compliance standards as laws and regulations change. Changes to internal policies and procedures can save money, improve employee productivity, reduce errors and remove bottlenecks, all of which improve operational efficiency.
The key to realizing the benefits of change is effective change management, which is sometimes confused with project management. Although they are related, change management and project management are two different disciplines.
Project management involves applying expertise, tools and techniques to project-related activities in order to achieve the goal of that specific project. Change management focuses on managing the human side of change. It uses certain processes, tools and techniques to improve an organization while helping people make the transition and accept and support the change.
Without effective change management, organizations are unable to capitalize on new opportunities and remain competitive. When change isn’t properly planned, or a plan isn’t properly implemented and executed, organizations risk frustrating and alienating customers, employees and shareholders. Regaining the full confidence and trust of any of these groups is a daunting if not impossible task.
The Keys to Effective Change Management
Change management begins with proactively addressing the human issues – how the jobs, roles and expectations of individuals will change. This requires significant research and planning in order to develop a successful change strategy. Change must start with the CEO, who provides both direction and motivation throughout the process. However, every layer of the organization must be involved.
Leaders must take ownership of the change strategy and clearly communicate why change is happening and how the organization will benefit. Create short-term goals and celebrate successes. Leaders also need to assess how change might affect the company culture. This allows leadership to identify and overcome obstacles and conflicts, and ensure that the culture supports the new way of doing things. Finally, instead of focusing solely on the change process, speak to people directly, honestly and transparently about change and reward their accomplishments.