How to introduce change with minimal disruption
James Aherne, a director at Renault-Nissan Consulting discusses how to introduce change without causing disruption
For most businesses these days, change is the only constant they will experience. Whether it’s an ever-growing army of competition, supplying goods to a generation of consumers who ‘want it now’, or utilising masses of data, being an agile organisation is crucial.
Adapting to both internal and external factors that influence a company’s success might seem like a daunting challenge - no one likes change after all. But when it’s managed properly, with an effective change management plan, organisations and their teams can move forward successfully through any period of transition.
What needs to change and why?
The first steps to making sure you introduce change to your organisation with minimal disruption are to understand the transition, identify the reasons for it and communicate these to your team.
One of the greatest challenges faced by organisations going through change is discontent among the workforce. Change causes worry and can lead to higher turnover of staff, which can be costly to your business. Where possible, retention of staff through proactive communication and keeping them informed about what is happening, will ensure your business is as stable as possible and can cope with what’s around the corner.
Asking yourself ‘why?’ change is necessary is often as important as the change itself. It’s essential to be clear about the business benefits of any transition, and to be sure you’re not embarking on a major project for no reason. It also helps to ease any uncertainty within your organisation by aligning your reasons for change to your business goals. For example, if your objective is growth, the acquisition of another business operating in your field could be a positive change for you and your employees.
Assess the impact
Once your objective and intentions are clear, you can create a change management plan. One of the first stages should be an assessment of the impact on your entire business. It’s advisable to look at each level or department individually, critically reviewing the negative and positive implications of any change. This not only helps you prioritise, but will also enable you to break down your change management plan into smaller segments and assign tasks to project managers where appropriate.
It’s important to judge for yourself how many people within your organisation should be informed about your plans for change at various stages. For example, during an acquisition or merger that can cause uncertainty, it’s important to keep all employees well informed to avoid conjecture or any drop in team morale. On the other hand, there will be occasions when sensitive information needs to be contained within a small group of trusted individuals.
Your communications strategy should highlight the various stages of your change programme. This should include announcements to everyone as well as the more confidential items on your agenda. You can assign lead representatives for each area of your communications programme, and then decide the best method of informing them and their team members. A basic system for planning your communications could include key messages, timings, delivery method or communications channel, and owner.
Implementing a support structure is an essential part of any change management plan, especially when your change involves the individuals operating within your organisation. It’s important to provide the resources that will help employees adjust to change both emotionally and on a practical level. Do they have the skills required to handle new responsibilities? And who are the representatives within your business that people can turn to when they have questions? All of the above should be considered to help you manage a smooth programme of change. It’s common to offer a mentorship scheme during times of uncertainty or for senior managers to implement an ‘open door’ policy for those who have concerns.
Make sure you monitor
Throughout your business transition period, any change management plan should be continually monitored to ensure deadlines and touch-points are adhered to. The slightest delay in specific activities can have a negative effect on everyone’s tasks so holding team leaders or task owners to account is an important part of managing change to avoid disruption. In addition, it’s important to remember your change management plan can be adapted along the way. The most effective systems for managing any major projects can be tailored or adapted when the unexpected happens. Ultimately, with a clear strategy, effective communication and a strong team of people assigned to each area, you can ensure business process excellence and that any period of change goes smoothly.