We are living in a world where change has become a critical part of a company’s survival in increasingly competitive and fast-paced markets.
Look at any company today and you will see that some form of change is happening. This is typically technology-led but always involves people, whether they be employees, stakeholders, customers – often all three.
As a change consultant, I have been involved in a variety of large, small, complex and sensitive change programmes over the years. And yet, even in today’s change driven world, I still see the same issues coming up time and time again.
So I have put together three articles that aim to provide some guidance for companies starting out on the change journey. This first article looks at preparing the ground for change to happen. Future articles will look at how to introduce change to employees and how to manage stakeholders in the change programme.
Let’s begin – readiness for change is key
Often the most overlooked activity in a change programme is readiness for change. Despite a change business case being developed, discussed and agreed with the executive team, the change itself will be implemented by and impacted on employees across the company. Therefore, assessing the company’s readiness for change, significantly increases the change programme’s chance of success.
Readiness for change covers all aspects of the organisation; culture, technology, previous change programmes and their success, customer perception and many others. Readiness also applies to employees, the greatest asset or barrier to any change programme success.
If you are thinking about embarking on a journey of change, big or small, and you want to get the building blocks for change positioned well, asking the following three questions offers a great starting point.
Three questions to ask when preparing for change
Question 1: What is the level of dissatisfaction with maintaining business as usual – i.e. no change?
This is often referred to as the ‘burning platform’ argument and stems from the Piper Alpha Oil disaster in 1988. Here men had the choice of jumping into the sea in the hope they would be rescued before they died of hyperthermia or staying put on a burning oil platform with the almost inevitable outcome.
This sounds a rather dramatic intervention for a local change programme but it is based on the well researched premise that people won’t change unless there is a strong imperative to do so. It applies as much to managing strategic change as it does to the disasters that we see regularly.
The burning platform message is ‘we cannot stay as we are’. This may be because of new regulations, new technology, new competitors, the economy or customer expectations.
Quite often change is presented as a good thing because the alternative narrative is more difficult. But of course this misses the point. To push the lever to create the motivation for individuals to accept that change needs to happen means creating an environment of survival, where the status quo is not an option. The problem with the burning platform approach is of course that it has some painful messages within it and requires some careful communication.
So when crafting your message, create one choice for change, describe the challenge and what the possible advantages will be. Importantly, describe the consequence of remaining where you are, how that’s not viable and the certain case of failure.
Question 2: What is the desirability for the proposed change?
This second question is where the proposed change and its benefits need to sold, however small. The new future needs to sound attractive, both from a corporate view, as well as for the individuals impacted by the change.
So if it is new technology, is there an environmental advantage, less duplication of effort and time saved? If it is an office move, is it to an area with better transport links, nearer to shops or a new café? Is there another company or part of the business that has achieved similar benefits? Where has change happened and people are happy with the outcome?
The key here is to create the desirability for the change and this will bring some momentum for employees to buy into the new future state.
Question 3: What’s the practicality of achieving the change?
Finally, what needs to happen to mean the change will actually happen? Think through the steps and what they will mean to people. Will the process of change mean people are displaced from their regular workplace or will have to do something different for a period of time? Will there be training on new systems? Whatever it is, will people be disrupted?
If so, make sure you let people know and mitigate the impact wherever possible and by acknowledging this up front. This creates a sense that the change is achievable and the company understands the impact and disruption it will have, albeit for a temporary period.
Making change practicable is a key part of creating buy-in to your future vision and getting people excited and prepared for what’s to come. Change often gets derailed when this isn’t done well and employees are left feeling frustrated and devalued – and once this happens, they head straight back to the way it was. And this is where change can very often unravel and the momentum gets lost.
In Part 2, we will look at how to introduce change to employees.
If you want to speak to an experienced change consultant, email me at email@example.com or call 07773 342084, for a no obligation, initial chat.