By Billie Bowe
While we all know that change is inevitable, there is a resistance to change that is natural to all human beings. It’s not just a Caribbean thing. Undoubtedly as the world, our country and our lives change, so do our workplaces.
For many of us who spend most of our time at work, changes on the job may present even bigger challenges when it comes to adjusting. However, once we understand the change process as individuals and as leaders, we are better able to weather the storm and adjust without sacrificing our wellbeing in the process.
Managing change in the workplace is becoming one of the most critical competencies an organization can build. Although organizations are constantly introducing change, few are educating their leaders and employees on the importance of change management. In the change management process, there are two elements at its core – the solution and cultural acceptance. Let’s delve deeper into these two elements.
Change in the workplace often comes about due to a challenge or perhaps a need for a change in direction. The first inclination for most companies is to focus on the solution. What can we do to solve the problem or change the process? When you think about it, couldn’t this be similar to a government implementing a new policy or regulation? Let’s use Value Added Tax (VAT) as an example. When a country introduces any type of taxation, the problem they are trying to solve is reducing their financial deficit. In essence, the government of these countries has a need to reduce borrowing and increase revenue so introducing a new form of taxation is often an option.
Well in business, a similar approach is often taken. Although the solution is critical to a change effort, the cultural acceptance could determine if the change is successful. Therefore, managing the solution is only half of the equation.
I’ve written previous articles regarding business strategies or initiatives that often die before they even get started. This happens because the focus was only the solution and not on how the solution would be accepted by the organization’s culture. Whether we realize it or not, every company has a culture. Not understanding the cultural environment of your business can spell disaster if your number one assets, your employees, don’t buy in to the new strategy or initiative. One must bear in mind that cultural clashes to change are often fueled by intense emotional responses.
So how can both elements of change management, the solution and cultural acceptance, be addressed in unison for maximum success and sustainability of any change effort?
We must understand that the change process occurs over time. It doesn’t happen rapidly and it occurs in phases, three phases to be exact. The first phase is “endings”. Whenever a change is introduced, something ends. What ends is the current or present state of doing business, performing work, or interacting with others. Things are no longer as they used to be.
The second phase is “transitions”. The transition phase is the most difficult phase for people to get through. It is also where the most time should be spent during the change management process. There is a dilemma with transitions. At this point in the change process, you have ended the way things were done before; however, you have not yet delivered on what has been promised from the change. This is where there is a “lost” feeling and things are uncomfortable.
The third phase is “new beginnings”. A new beginning happens when the benefits of the change are realized. Employees begin to feel ownership of how the change has personally affected them. There is a higher level of cultural acceptance and increased comfort and awareness of the change effort. New beginnings should be celebrated and lessons learned captured to ensure the next change effort is successful.
With cultural acceptance being such a crucial element to change, people must understand why the change effort is taking place. A case for the change should be created. Specifically, the case for change should include the following: What is the change? Why this? Why now? Why is it important? Walls begin to immediately go up if the communication aspect of a change process is mishandled. Therefore communication is even more crucial. This is an area where organizations I have studied often encountered difficulty and that is, communication.
Developing a communication plan is essential when introducing change. The rule of thumb is that you can never communicate too much. In addition, it is never too early to communicate, and communication should be continuous throughout the entire change effort.
In conclusion, it is inevitable that a company will encounter resistance to change. It is an absolute when dealing with people. It is important to understand that this is a reality and no matter how much time is spent on change management, there will be a percent of the audience that will resist. Understanding that the solution and the cultural acceptance go hand in hand, along with a solid communication plan, makes the probability of success of your change implementation even greater.