Change Agents: Making Change Stick
One of the common questions around transformation, is how to ensure any projects effects lasting change. However well a transformation or change project has gone, there is always the risk of finishing the ‘project’ and falling back to old ways of working, and ignoring new proposed processes. Lasting change can really only happen when a person or team has shifted their mindset to a new idea or way of doing things.
So, how do you ensure all your hard work does not go to waste, and the changes stick?
1. ENGAGE IN THE CHANGE
You cannot automatically expect people to be on board with a change; teams need to be actively engaged and brought on board. Simply explaining a change, and then going away and working on the project remotely or separately does not engage a wider organisation in a transformation. This can also lead to drops in staff morale and efficiency. Be transparent on the reasons for change and the direction of the company.
It helps to be realistic when trying to engage with people: don’t expect everyone to deal with change in the same way. Understand where they are coming from, and where they are in the change curve, to get an idea of how they are handling the change and any resistance they may have to it.
Involve your team as much as possible in discussions and decisions related to the change, and offer them the chance to feedback and offer alternative suggestions. Feeling like you have a say instinctively encourages you to get more involved. Share updates about the project, and take time to remind people of the original purpose.
Create both formal and informal communication channels, and ensure you are communicating everything, and disseminating information and decisions made by leadership. When you share the good, the bad, and the ugly, teams are more likely to feel engaged, and not like they are being sold a line on project outcomes.
Lead by example. As a role model you need to be consistent with your actions and others will follow.
2. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
No matter the level of engagement and training, even the most enthusiastic workforce can falter and slide back into old habits when faced with a full inbox, or tight deadlines. People need practice and time to develop new habits, as well as triggers and reminders. Work together to commit to the change, consciously practice the new, and encourage your teams to remind each other until the changes become second nature.
Lasting change stays successful because you remain focused on keeping it that way. Be conscious of any bad behaviour/failures to comply with new ways of doing things. Consider how these will be dealt with and how tolerant you can afford to be with misdemeanours. Sometimes there are external factors that cause things to veer off the path of change, for example a new external member to the team who is not used to how meetings are run and introduces some bad habits. Rather than assuming that the change did not stick, take the time to coach the new team member on meeting protocols.
3. MEASURE THE SUCCESS
Tracking progress of a change can help engage teams to see how far they have come, and the pace of the change. Measuring the effectiveness can also remind teams of the shared vision and keep the project on track. Remind yourselves of what success should look like and use this as an opportunity to correct your course back towards success.
What if change is successful and you just want it to stay that way? Then don’t stop the music. Keep celebrating what’s working – remind people of their success, and it reinforces the change. Reflect on the tangible changes and what has been achieved; perhaps meetings are faster and more efficient, or certain tasks or processes totally overhauled.
4. SUPPORT AND REWARD
Consider what each person must do differently for the change to be successful, and ensure they are equipped and supported to make these changes. Review job descriptions, and ensure any changes are also recorded. Ensure your environment is collaborative, with clear and open channels of communication; empower your staff to both handle important information, and also act upon it. Create capability – make team members feel confident about the change by making sure they have the skills needed to be successful. This is done by communication, learning and coaching during the on-going change process.
Learning during change is the key to success.
Results are always most likely to come when people feel sufficiently rewarded. Celebrate the quick wins, as well as the bigger milestones. Rewards can positively reinforce the change, and encourage teams away from bad behaviour. Therefore, it is vital to reward the things that matter most. Take a look at the performance review process and determine how it supports or suppresses the teams’ willingness to change. If you find gaps, talk to the relevant stakeholders in the organisation.
5. WAIT BEFORE YOU TWEAK
There are always small things that don’t quite work or fit in once new processes are embedded and being implemented. Resist the urge to start tweaking and improving upon these, no matter how small or trivial, or before you know it you will have found a whole new workaround. Many people will not immediately understand the new system or the value it is adding, nor the implications of any ‘tiny’ changes. Give your teams time to fully get used to the process – once you are experts at it, you can then start making changes.
Ultimately, successful change begins with a clear and well-communicated purpose and a well-defined plan, but it is driven forward and made lasting with practice, discipline and vigilance.