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The 5 qualities of change-ready, change-willing organizations

A woman points to a sticky note on the wall in front of colleagues.

Change, the philosopher Heraclitus once said, is the only constant in life. Whether it is responding to a crisis, or customer demands, or simply adapting to new technology or new competition, every organization will have to undergo change at some point or another. Some organizations, however, will be more successful than others when it comes to implementing change.

If an organization is ready and willing to tackle change, there are qualities that will help them find success. Here are the top five qualities that differentiate organizations that are ready to embrace change and willing to create a long-lasting impact.

1. A structured approach with dedicated resources

What does success look like? How will we know we are successful? Deciding on the answers to these questions at the very beginning of the change can help you set clear expectations and guide you through the rest of the process.

Breaking the change down into separate stages can also clarify where you are in the process, and what’s coming next:

  • Setting the stage
  • Preparing for the change
  • Defining Impacted teams
  • Assessing the change
  • Managing resistance to change
  • Reinforcing change

Creating a clear roadmap, setting expectations, and designating responsibility at the beginning will help to create a clear picture and keep everyone in the same page. You may find the Prosci Change Triangle (or PCT) model helpful in identifying risks and evaluating project health.

2. An active and visible sponsor

Key support from the executive team is critical when implementing change. If employees don’t believe that the executive team is fully on board, supportive, and engaged, they may not take change seriously. But for change to really take place, there needs to be an active and visible sponsor leading the charge.

A sponsor’s responsibility is guiding and executing on the change: communicating why the change is happening, why it is necessary, and why it is necessary now. Who the sponsor should be depends on the level of risk of the project; a more expansive or higher risk change should be sponsored by a senior executive or officer within the organization.

A good choice for a sponsor is someone who is trusted by employees to have the right level of expertise to lead the change. Existing rapport with employees is also a plus. Choice of sponsor is very important: having a good sponsor is critical to maintaining support from employees.

3. Frequent and open communication

Communication is an integral part of this process; it must be frequent, and it must be open, coming from both the sponsor and from employees’ managers.

A general communication plan should answer:

  • What's changing?
  • Why now?
  • Why change?
  • What's the risk of not changing?
  • What's not changing?
  • What's the impact of the proposed change?

In addition, there should be specific communication coming from the managers in every department, at every level, based on how much the change will impact employees in that department.

Communication by itself is not enough, however. You will need to measure awareness to see if your message is getting across effectively. Check for awareness levels across every department to see if there is any lack of understanding, and where you may need to reinforce the message.

4. Active participation from employees

Change is hard and rarely comfortable, and, as a result, most people resist change. This is normal.

Different departments and different employees will feel the day-to-day effect to different extents. Some employees might not feel the effect at all; others might have their responsibilities, their location, or their compensation impacted. Responding to different reactions with empathy is key.

One popular approach is the ADKAR model, which stands for five outcomes that need to be achieved by each employee to support an organizational change:

  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire to participate and support the change
  • Knowledge of how to change
  • Ability to implement the desired skills and behaviors
  • Reinforcement to sustain the change long term

The ADKAR model can help guide individual employees through a change, and in overcoming any roadblocks or hurdles along the way.

5. Strong engagement from middle management

Middle management will be very important in communicating the change to employees, and, along with the sponsor, reinforcing expectations around the change. They will also be integral in allowing employees to provide feedback since they can uncover concerns and reactions to the process, address them, and surface them when necessary. Active listening and empathy are important: If you do not have empathy and keep your employees at the center of the change, change will not be successful in the long run.

Perhaps the most important quality for an organization looking to undertake change is the acceptance of the fact that real change is difficult and rarely a smooth process, but can be achieved more effectively with a proactive, thoughtful approach. Having a defined plan, open communication with employees, clear expectations, and an active sponsor will go a long way in making the transition easier.

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