Managing and communicating change

Communicating change is as important as making that change, says experts

For many organisations, the ability to deal with change management has become vitally important.

According to Ian Palmer writing in IT Journal, a key step to successful change management is making sure employees are involved in the process.

Companies must have employee buy-in or they risk losing staff – something most companies can’t afford when staff are hard to find in a low-unemployment economy.

Interestingly, change isn’t something most companies do well if a recent report by people3, a Gartner company, is anything to go by. Palmer quotes the report as predicting that 75% of IT companies contemplating widespread changes will fail to properly consider their organisational ability and willingness to adapt.

Herman Group chief executive Roger Herman is quoted as saying that the one way to win support from employees is to get them involved from the start.

"We have an expression: People support what they help to create… if they're not involved in the process, they don't have any invested interest in it.”

It makes sense. As Herman says in the article, if people are treated badly, they’re not going to have any reason to support what he company is doing.

So you need to think about how people are likely to respond to the impending change and ensure the changes are pursued logically and are well planned.

It’s all very well, of course, to say you want buy-in but in reality, you can’t force it on people. Palmer’s article says the buy-in has to be created, not forced. Palmer also points out that you’re asking for trouble if “employers are forced to wait while staff members travel through the valleys of indecision.”

Companies have to balance the positives gained from employee buy-in with the potential negatives of not implementing changes on time and on budget.

This buy-in from workers has been taken a step further by organisational consultant Richard Axelrod, quoted in an HRnext.com article on All-Biz.com.

“According to Axelrod, traditional change management, which is designed to infuse new life, creativity and innovation into an organisation, instead breeds increased resistance and cynicism.”

He says change management actually increases bureaucracy, and reinforces top-down management. His alternative to change management is The Engagement Paradigm.

“Rather than forming small work teams that include only a few dozen employees, Axelrod advocates involving hundreds or workers, creating a critical mass, ‘so that we no longer have the few deciding for the many’.”

He believes the benefits include highly motivated employees who understand the "big picture" and are aligned around a common purpose and a fully distributed accountability. In addition, he believes it results in improved productivity, greater customer satisfaction and enhanced creativity, as employees across all levels and functions contribute their best ideas.

Writing in Computerworld US, Mary K Pratt outlines other steps for leading successful change.

For starter, be clear about what you want to achieve, she says.

Pratt quotes a consultant as saying that IT leaders often have trouble making sure their visions are clear, specific and “framed from multiple perspectives”.

Another important step is to build alliances by talking to leaders within other departments to “champion changes.”

Don’t just communicate, she says — overcommunicate.

“Meetings, newsletters, posters, emails and informal exchanges help you explain the changes that lie ahead, why they're needed and what they'll mean.”

Don’t try to make all the changes at once and keep the process simple, she recommends.

“Divide the change into digestible pieces and then take time to implement them.”

Pratt advises to learn from past experiences not only within your own organisation but by talking to colleagues in other industries for advice.

Finally, after the change is implemented, make sure you get feedback.

“Survey workers who are affected by a change and talk with them directly. ‘Management shouldn't just say, “I have an open-door policy." The reality is most people won't go through that doorway.”

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