08 Jul 2015
The “What” and “Why” of Change Management
by Melanie Franklin
As a line manager you already have a full time job leading your team, ensuring they meet their key performance indicators, ensuring your internal and external customers are happy with the service they receive. So when you are given the additional responsibility of leading a change initiative, it is important to understand what you need to know about change and why you need to know it.
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- Know where the change has come from and why it is so important. Is the change the result of an individual project to introduce a new system or a process change to meet a new regulatory requirement? Or is the change part of a bigger program or initiative? These are important questions because you need to know if your response should be a focused, relatively short term change of working practices or whether you need to widen the responsibilities for change across your team, prepare your team for on-going disruption as multiple waves of change affect processes, systems, team structure, customer relationships etc.
- Understand that individuals have an emotional reaction to change and whilst the strength of this reaction will vary from person to person, it guarantees that no change will see an immediate improvement in how work is carried out. Only when your team have gone through this psychological journey to accept the change will you start to see them working in new ways.
- Lead your team through this psychological journey with patience, confidence and respect for their contribution. Be aware that their reaction will often try your patience, but hopefully by understanding what these steps are, you can rationalise what is happening and recognise that their lack of involvement at the start of the change is not an attack on you and your leadership but is a normal human reaction. This reaction has four key stages:
- Surprise or shock – so people need time to absorb the news about the change. Often you will need to repeat yourself as you try to explain the change to overcome the emotional ‘noise’ that prevents those experiencing shock from hearing you the first time.
- Anger as individuals realise that they change will involve abandoning existing habits and learning new ways of working. This learning involves practice which involves making mistakes (and no-one enjoys that) combined with the fear of failing in front of their colleagues. Anticipation of the difficulties ahead can cause a very negative reaction as people seek to protect themselves against the change. They do this by complaining that the timing of the change is wrong or that the change is unnecessary because things are fine as they are. They might complain about who originated the change, claiming that senior management don’t really understand how things work or blaming external consultants as they don’t know the organisation. Sometimes they will blame you because you are the messenger of the change. Some individuals will seek to protect themselves from the change by arguing that it doesn’t apply to their role or that their tasks are exceptionally complicated/important and should not be included in the new ways of working.
- Confusion as your team realise that the change is really going to happen. During this period of confusion concentrate on being really honest about what you know. Keep explaining why the change is important so that you can create some momentum for making the change happen. Explain in very clear terms what will be different and what will remain the same. If there are significant losses e.g. changes in skills, stopping certain activities and replacing them with others then be clear about this. Don’t hide bad news because people will find out and they will lose their trust in you as their leader.
- Acceptance of the change will often lead to a demand for lots more information and a chance to become involved in shaping how the change will actually be implemented. At this point it’s a good idea to have identified lots of activities and tasks that your team can get involved in to make the change a reality. They will only really start working in the new ways if they have had a chance to design the new ways of working so don’t do all the work yourself. Get them involved as much as possible and spend your time explaining the scope of the change and the desired outcomes. This leaves your team free to fill in the details for themselves.