The Importance of Change Management in Transformations

By Brian Cooney

Transformation is a reality for every organization. Circumstances, missions, and customers evolve, and organizations must change to position themselves for success. Many organizations blunder through transformations because they ignore the challenges of managing change. They fail to recognize the importance and effort required to deliver on the promise of a transformation. Leaders of successful transformation efforts understand and employ change management to enable their workforce to embrace the change and deliver on the value of transformation.

Is your team prepared for a significant change?

Would you know where to start, or how to successfully lead a major transformation?

The goal of transformation is to reshape how an organization’s workforce, processes, and technology operate and interact to drive better outcomes. Change management is a structured approach for implementing change, moving an organization from current state to future state, and helping the workforce to realize the benefits of change. Transformation efforts are the path and destination an organization aspires to reach, while change management serves as a guide in the journey of transformation.

Organizations that incorporate change management practices into their transformational journey position themselves for mission success. They exhibit common traits in their change management approaches, including:

  • Urgency to transform
  • Clear vision, strong strategy to make change possible
  • Commitment to the journey

 

Urgency to Transform

Transformations are about overcoming tremendous threats or seizing game-changing opportunities to an organization - the stakes are high. When embarking on a transformational journey, establishing urgency is vital from the beginning. People like to rely on procedure, muscle memory, and business as usual, following the path of least resistance. The workforce needs a reason to change and to understand the value of change before they become willing to shift away from ingrained habits and processes.

Establishing urgency enlists early adopters and the champions needed for effective change management. The next step is to rally the willing around a succinct, powerful, and convincing cause.

To ignite transformation, lead from a position of trust. Be honest and direct with the workforce about why it needs to change. Data provides a powerful tool in your change management arsenal, internal and external forces can drive the need to transform, and data can supply a convincing “case for change.” The workforce needs to see, feel, and understand how current performance is suboptimal, how competitors threaten to seize market share, or how customer insights can drive new approaches.

 

Clear Vision, Strong Strategy

An effective transformation needs a clear vision to articulate where the organization is going and a strong strategy for how it will achieve its desired end state.

A clear vision articulates long term success resulting from transformation. It is a succinct, powerful, and persuasive case for change. A good vision does not require genius or inspiration, but it does require executives of the organization to understand where they need to go, to anticipate how change affects their stakeholders, and to be accountable throughout the process of change. If the vision is unclear or the benefits undefined, it is easy for the workforce to see or assume the worst. Whether an individual is consensus driven or competitive, it provides a reason to be a change agent. The workforce needs to see and feel confident about where the transformational journey will take them.

Effective leaders establish a clear vision and follow with a concrete plan. A strong strategy intimately understands the specific challenges an organization faces, develops an approach to solving those problems, and lays out a coherent means for accomplishing the desired end state. It is vital to solve for the right problem with a relatable approach and through clear actions to drive meaningful change.

 

Commitment

The final tenet is fostering commitment to see change through. A successful transformation requires change persistence. Many well-intentioned leadership teams seek change by assembling bright teams and developing great plans yet fail to make the necessary commitment to change. To make commitment work, champions must be committed for the long-term. These champions come from various places in the organization, but there are two architypes worth highlighting:

  1. The Committed Executive, someone with powerful influence to foster change across diverse stakeholders in the organization. They are strategic enough to drive the change vision and are also experienced enough to have lived through previous transformations and bear the scars of the organization’s current pain while remaining optimistic for the future.
  2. The Change Champions are trusted junior and mid-level management embedded in the organization who are often the most knowledgeable about inefficient processes and other challenges the organization faces. They connect the strategic to the everyday. They translate front office language to front line action needed for change.

Finding people that understand successful change requires commitment that extends well beyond any implementation timeline. Hearts and minds are won in the weeks and months when innovative ideas compete for attention. Address what is different about this transformation. Seeing a transformation across the finish line is difficult, but executive commitment and accountability throughout is the best way to drive success.

 

Lessons from the Transformation Trenches

Transforming something as complex as an organization is no easy task but change management can vastly improve the effectiveness of a transformation effort. The theory of change management is not difficult. At its simplest, it is effectively planning, communicating, and executing to generate buy-in, mitigate resistance, and sticking to the commitment. Ultimately, successful transformations employ intelligent, dedicated, and experienced change agents. Change practitioners must co-create with you, providing useful advice and context for leaders to understand what drives your organization’s workforce and culture.

As you embark on your next transformation, consider not just the end state you desire, but the investment you must make in managing the change. Embracing change management, establishing urgency, defining a clear vision and strong strategy, and fully committing, will help your organization transform.

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