Blow Away the Confusion and Fears

by Krishna on January 6, 2007

What is real leadership in change management? I believe it is about managing conflicts. It is about trying to reconcile the gung-ho attitude of the change proponents with the needs of the people who will have to implement or be affected by the change. It is also about integrity and candor. Change programs will benefit the organization, but the leader has to look out for the employees and their concerns through training or post-employment support. Leadership should invest in incremental small changes over a long period of time so that the organization is not forced into making destabilizing mass changes.

One of the biggest mistakes in implementing a change is lack of effective communication from the management to the employees and vice versa. Some of the answers that people are looking for when they are informed of a change are

  1. Why are we doing this change? What is the vision? What are the goals?
    Many change programs talk vaguely about improving productivity and profitability. Instead, explain clearly with numbers why the change is necessary. What are the things that need to be achieved? Why this path? Why not something else? The more information about the vision that is communicated sincerely, the better the acceptance.
  2. Why now? What has changed?
    Change management is easiest when things are going bad. When the organization or some part of the organization is doing well, change is very difficult. As an example, consider how many winning sports teams change their lineup even if some team member is performing poorly.
  3. How did you come up with this change program? Did you talk to the people on the ground before you started on this route?
    The thing that really upsets people is when management comes up with their “great ideas” based on wrong assumptions about what people are actually doing in the field. Avoid that. Take time to walk and talk around to understand ground realities.
  4. What are my roles and responsibilities in implementing this change?
    Make the change tangible in terms of action items. People need to know what is expected of them. If they are not expected to do anything, make it clear to them who is taking care of the change and why only them, just so that the uninvolved persons don’t feel left out. Try to use volunteers instead of assigning people.
  5. Will I get the necessary support to implement this change, including allocation of budget, time, resources and training?
    As with (3) above, management decisions on change implementations should first be discussed with middle managers to clearly understand resource needs. A management edict without proper support is likely to die a quick death.
  6. What is the flexibility I have in adapting this change to conform to my particular situation, such as local markets, culture, local business model, etc?
    In an organization that is spread out geographically, it is important to give managers a lot of leeway in terms of customizing the change to local conditions. Quality teams looking for standard process compliance often miss this point.
  7. I have some questions, ideas and suggestions regarding this change. Who do I talk to? Will they take me seriously and try to address my ideas? If they won’t implement my ideas, will they communicate back to me and tell me why they wouldn’t implement it?
    Establish open channels of communication. Make employees feel that they can easily talk about problems caused by the change, and they will be heard. My experience has been that unless you have totally alienated people, it is easy to get feedback, opinions and suggestions. The tougher part is to follow up on those suggestions and then communicate back to the person about how the issue was handled. If a suggestion is not implemented or will have to wait, it can be a challenge to do this with the necessary tact, since that person may feel strongly about the issue.

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