Implementing organizational change is one of the biggest challenges a business leader will ever face. Risk and unfamiliarity don’t exactly rouse employees’ enthusiasm, especially if they interpret change as code for instability and increased workloads. But change — if handled correctly — can reinvigorate a company and bring net positives for everyone involved.
The best way to effect quick, seamless change is to create positive associations with any organizational shifts. Working with internal change agents who can influence their peers and can help drive the new agenda is a great way to achieve that.
Change agents understand the importance of adaptability and are willing to go to bat for the company; that’s why you need to know how to find them. They can help employees adjust to new ways of operating so that your business can prosper.
Here’s a three-step strategy for getting everyone on board when it’s time for change:
- Assess Your Company’s Change Readiness.
Management experts James Belasco and Ralph Stayer once said, “Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”
You must win your team’s support if you want new policies or systems to succeed, and they’re going to want some serious assurance that they’ll be better off once the changes are in place.
Talk to your employees to encourage them to voice their opinions or ask questions about your proposed changes. One reluctant senior manager can influence a lot of people against organizational shifts. That person might have legitimate concerns but feel that he hasn’t been given the opportunity to express them. Hold regular town halls and establish an open-door policy to avoid stagnation and resentment.
My company uses a cloud-based survey to ensure that everyone’s opinion is heard, and we collate these responses with our HR data to determine overall change readiness. We also use this information to identify potential change agents who can move us toward our goals.
- Choose the Right Change Agents.
Many executives mistake political power for genuine influence when selecting their advocates. They assume that the most high-profile figures have the most clout, but that’s not always the case.
Oftentimes, you’ll find your best allies outside the traditional hierarchy. An employee with a vast internal network of relationships is much more valuable than someone who is highly visible but not well-respected. That’s why data gathering and transparency are so important. When you’re tuned in to your employees, you have a better sense of who can effectively communicate your ideas and motivate others.
Once you’ve identified your agents, inform them about the impending changes before telling anyone else. Give them ample time to ask questions, and listen closely to their feedback. Their insights will help you present the changes to the rest of the organization in a positive and effective light.
But don’t encourage intellectual dependence on these leaders. Harvard Business Review recommends making “the group the guru,” meaning that everyone feels responsible for what happens in the company. Change agents can inspire people to get behind new ideas, but you don’t want the rest of your staff members to become blind followers. Genuine engagement will drive widespread, sustainable transformation.
It’s also crucial that you build the new system and mindset into your company’s culture. Even when the logistics are in place, people can still backslide into old ways of thinking or unproductive habits unless you establish an environment to help them thrive.
- Anticipate Roadblocks.
No matter how well-prepared you are for change, you’ll still likely experience some setbacks. But the further down the road you can look, the easier these issues will be to navigate. Some of the most common problems businesses experience during transitions include overly cautious management teams and initiative gridlock. Include a diverse group of people in the planning process, and don’t be afraid to nudge different departments out of their comfort zones. Maintaining momentum is key if you want to create lasting change.
My team helped a major health insurance company modernize its system within six months, thanks in large part to change readiness assessments and a top-notch team of change agents. We advised a C-level executive who was new to the organization on how to use peer-to-peer data to identify potential advocates, and those individuals helped prepare everyone else. In half a year, the 3,000-member IT department transitioned from a hierarchical system to a matrix reporting system, a shift later modeled throughout the company.
Change doesn’t have to be hard, and it’s certainly not impossible. Your company needs to be adaptable in an increasingly fast-paced environment, but you won’t get there without employee buy-in. Readiness plans and change agents will help you make positive, seamless transitions as you continue to grow.
By Zachary Johnson is the CEO and co-founder of Syndio.