Adapting to change is never easy, regardless of the magnitude. I began my consulting career in the financial services industry in the early 1980s, at a time when commercial banks were implementing dramatic cost-cutting programs. The industry was plagued by excessive costs (non-interest expense) brought to the forefront by deregulation. Throughout the 80s, 90s, 2000s and into the current decade, the pace of change for the banking industry has been unrelenting. Mix in new advances in technology coupled with a few economic downturns, and you have one of the most turbulent industries in the world.
After two and a half decades of being directly involved in consulting projects involving significant change, I have observed the exhilaration of project success, along with the disappointment of project failure. Failures most often resulted in banks being sold, merged or closed, affecting thousands of employees and their families. I’ve watched CEOs, managers and employees reduced to tears, board members storm out of meetings and managers at all levels (as well as employees) throw up their hands and simply quit. Why? Because they were unwilling to accept or adapt to a new way of doing business. From their point of view, the degree of change that they faced was simply not worth the pain.
Fast forward to 2014, where I now find myself in a different industry, promoting accounting software designed specifically for the hospitality industry. In my current role, I consult with executives at all levels of hospitality management companies of all sizes, providing information so they can make an informed buying decision. Once the decision is made to transition to our products and services, we communicate and lead a proven methodology for implementation, training, and support. In each transition, established workflows, policies and procedures are affected to some degree. Employees must adapt to the new technology, thus “buying-in” to the new way of doing things. Our solutions provide the same benefits to all users, but the degree of benefit achieved is most often based on how well the company embraces and adapts to the change. Of course, there are highly successful transitions where maximum benefit is received, and still those conversions where maximum benefit is still something yet realized.
ourse, there is no single answer to these questions, but here are four broad takeaways that you should explore in order to achieve success in implementing organizational change.
1) Leadership is critical.
Leadership is by far the most critical component. A good over all study of Change Management is an excellent first step. There are many books written on the subject that may help set and maintain the correct mindset. Leadership must accept that change is difficult, but truly believe that there is a better way to get the job done. Leadership must establish processes for harvesting new ideas in conjunction with promoting total transparency in communication. Simply stated, ideas flow freely when the company’s culture allows for open and honest communication, without the fear of reprisal. Leadership should foster an environment where innovative ideas are greatly valued, no matter which employee brings them to the forefront.
2) Top down sponsorship of change must be unwavering.
Establishing unwavering sponsorship for approved projects from the very top of the organization is simply an absolute. Once the project is deemed as the best alternative, individuals responsible for implementing the change should know that they have authority to do so, but are also sensitive to that authority.
3) Develop a detailed plan.
As simple as it sounds, developing an implementation plan can be one of the greatest challenges to the project, depending upon the scope and type of change that is being undertaken. Effective plans recognize that employees buy-in to what they help build and create, and incorporate input from multiple levels of the organization. It must take into account the company’s culture, anticipate employee reaction and incorporate a clear methodology to handle resistance.
4) There may be casualties.
Assuming that proper due diligence has been performed, that the proposed change is expected to produce necessary results and that the first three items listed above have all been followed, realize that there may still be casualties. While we’d all like to believe that every associate will be a believer in the proposed change, that will not always be the case. If there are associates who do not embrace the change, and more so, continue to spread ill will and plant seeds of doubt and resentment toward the leadership of the company, not seeing the greater good, then those associates will likely be happier and your organization will be much better off if they are encouraged to seek other opportunities. With effective change management, the squeaky wheel does not need grease; they need to be attached to a different wagon.
At the end of the day, it makes little difference if you are implementing software, designing compensation plans or totally restructuring your organization, these four basic takeaways are critical to understand and explore. The cost of failure can be great, but also keep in mind that the greatest successes are a process, not an event.
Adapting to change is never easy, but accepting that fact might just make it easier! So best of luck implementing your next best idea!