From the amount of literature and media coverage being given to it, you might think that change is a new subject. But, as we all know, change has been with us since the beginning of time. Having said that, however, we must acknowledge that change in our time is different. There is more of it… it happens faster… and it is increasingly complex.

If you are contemplating or currently engaged in a change, we offer these tips for successfully effecting a directed change effort gathered from our client experiences.

1. Be clear on the change you want to make.

This will require that you refine your broad goals into specific desired outcomes. For example, you may already know from general complaints or loss of business that your customer service is not as good as your competition’s. What are the specific changes you need to make to be more competitive…how will you know when you have succeeded?

2. Plan for change.

You will find a number of change models described in various management publications today. Most do a good job of outlining a structure for change. We believe, however, that there is no magic formula for effective change – rather, it is a combination of art and science. What is important is that you use a structured strategic and operational planning process for the change. Choose the model which seems most effective to you; then, tailor it to the unique needs of your situation.

3. Increase your organizational resilience.

Successful change comes down to people, and people vary in their flexibility for change. Create an environment that forces your employees to stretch, grow, and learn new behaviors so that they are better able to cope with change. Job rotation, cross-training, research assignments and project work, for example, are excellent ways of broadening employee experience and perspectives.

4. Accept the fact that change is not tidy.

Think of your change effort as having “mood
swings”. One day it may be up, the next down. Use the downs as a learning opportunity —e.g. take time out with employees to help them get focused on what is actually happening and how they feel about it. Keep in mind that your communicate both explicit and implicit messages. Stay in touch with your own feelings about the change.

5. Recognize that it may look darkest before the dawn.

For long distance runners, there is a point called “hitting the wall,” when runner thinks he can go no further. If he doesn’t give up, however, he gets past the wall and finds the strength to go the distance. In directed change efforts, there is a point where the world will look black… where you may question why you undertook the change effort to begin with. Keep focused on your goal. Keep yourself and others motivated by celebrating small successes… posting progress.

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

The grapevine can be a powerful – and negative – influence in organizations. Cut through the speculation and mis communication by developing a two-way communication process. Use multiple communication channels – newsletters, bulletin boards, meetings, one-on-ones. If employees seem reluctant to speak up in groups, provide other ways for them to ask questions until you can build their trust – question/suggestion boxes, a voice mail hot line. Keep communication open, honest and frequent.

7. Make employees stakeholders in the change.

Most of us don’t engage in change until the pain of staying where we are exceeds the ambiguity of making the change. Help your employees understand the consequences of staying where you are versus the opportunities for where you are going. Create incentive systems that recognize and reward the behavior you want.

8. Invest in education and training.

Establish an “agreement” with employees on how you will help them prepare for the change and what they will need to do to prepare. Create individual development plans. Make specific training available on coping with change. Use a just-in-time approach to training employees in the new skills, knowledge and behaviors required by your future environment.

9. Identify and engage organizational change agents.

These people may be easy to spot. They may be the ones jumping at the chance for change. Just as likely, however, they can be skeptics who have the skills which will help your project. Giving these skeptics ownership for the outcome can be a powerful persuader for holdouts.

10. Accept the fact that not everyone will buy in.

Most change detractors will be pulled along by the momentum. However, some people simply won’t or can’t change. If these holdouts become destructive, you will need to take appropriate corrective action.


Mark Akerley is President of Sigma Resource Group, a strategic growth and executive development firm assisting business owners, entrepreneurs and executive teams achieve their goals, contact Mark.