Managing change: 4 practical tips

ESPAÑOL

There is no doubt — in today’s environment — that the organization that does not change to face challenges and seize opportunities, or does not do it in time, is doomed. The effectiveness and speed of change are therefore key to survival and success.

I share herewith some practical tips, learned from mistakes made and avoided over several decades of triggering, managing and culminating processes of company change of all kinds: organizational, business model, strategical, cultural, etc.

Organizations must adapt to a constantly moving environment to survive

1. Let’s make it simple

As complex as a change management project can be, its overall objectives can be broken down into concrete, simple and individualized sub-goals. This will help us making some decisions and increasing the speed of implementation, by dividing the project into simpler and delegable parts that, in addition, will be easier to adjust when needed.

For instance, the goal of placing the customer at the center of our action and improving our understanding of his needs and opinions, formulated as such, can be seen as a vague, interpretable and difficult to translate into individual behaviors. On the other hand, if we ask the sales team to include in their sales reports – simply and systematically – a number of customers’ answers to specific questions, the effort required to for this group to contribute to the process is greatly reduced, without diverting individuals from their priority objective: to sell. Area managers, back office staff and the sales manager can as well have specific sub-goals relevant to their activity, always consistent with the overall objective.

2. Change is about behaviors

Every complex change management project can be translated into a set of modifications of individual and collective specific behaviors and habits.

Behaviors relate to people, individually and in teams. No matter how high in the organization the change intent comes from or how much pressure is exerted for its advancement, if most of the individuals and teams responsible to actually modify their behaviors are not committed to it, change will not happen or fail.

According to psychology experts, the thought-feeling-action axis is a key to understand human behavior. We do what we think is right, what we understand and agree with, or what we believe that will positively impact us and our group and make us feel best. Last, sometimes we act automatically, without questioning our reasons, driven by habit or comfort. In any case, these three elements – thought, emotions and action- are always there to some extent behind our behaviors.

Logically, it is essential that the originators of change, at top level base their drive on their shared conviction of the need and determination to carry it out; they must accompany that conviction with its decisions, gestures and daily behavior. Shared or, at least, consensual thinking is essential at that level.

Beyond that top group, throughout the whole organization involved, the reasons for embracing the new behaviors can be diverse: sharing the analysis and the convenience of the proposed change, trusting the management, feeling part of the team, expecting positive personal outcome, contributing to the organization’s future, etc. Some individuals will just follow instructions without further questioning.

The change manager must assure a clear and consistent communication about the reasons, benefits and implications of change. This will offer everybody a reason to join the common goal. Everyone should be able to select what seems the best reason for him/her. Trying to gather a uniform team of convinced, enthusiastic or obedient individuals is unrealistic and, above all, useless. There will always be a mix of elements, and that’s good.

3. The perfect plan is never implemented

In complex processes, such as business change, it is impossible to anticipate everything and consider all the possible impacts and reactions of the environment. Waiting for the perfect plan to initiate change is a guarantee that we will not move forward (the well-known “analysis paralysis”).

It is compulsory to establish very clear targets and ultimate goals, the “red lines” that will never be trespassed and, in addition, provide for very agile and effective routines of monitoring, reporting and adjustment of decisions. This action-monitoring-adjustment routine, besides facilitating the process acceleration, brings the added value of enhancing the organizational understanding and know-ho on the key factors and dynamics of the business: it brings organizational learning.

In short, once the overall goals, the individual and team targets and the expected specific actions are set and shared, we should move ahead and be prepared to make corrections on the fly.

4. The value of the outside look

There are three relevant elements normally present in every change management process:

– Any substantial change process implies for the organization an overload of work and a potential defocusing on the business which, in the meantime, must go on (the plane must be modified in mid-flight!)

– Changing methods, organizations and systems that were once effective and successful can generate susceptibility among the people – managers and the rest of the team – who implemented them, even if they understand the need and convenience of doing so. Not taking the change objectives personally requires a significant effort of objectivity from internal staff.

– Every process of change, especially if it touches organization and culture, generates tensions and sometimes involves making difficult decisions which might affect the work of some people and harm the long-term stability and harmony of the team.

To address these three potential adverse effects of the process of change, it is highly convenient to bring on board someone experienced in processes of change who brings an external and objective look, not contaminated by the history of personal relationships and without having to simultaneous this mission with the day-to-day life of the business.

Author’s profile J. Miguel Noriega

Moments of Change

ESPAÑOL

Organizational change is a complex matter. To better understanding and approaching it, it is useful to classify it by kind, looking for differences and similarities between the different types.

TYPES OF CHANGE

We can identify three big categories of change, with different implications and consequences each of them, depending on the moment it happens:

  • Change during crisis times

Organizations going through crisis frequently suffer change. They suffer it as it is normally imposed to them from the outside (the market, regulations, competition). Saint Ignatius of Loyola advised ‘not to move in time of trouble’ but this kind of change is seldom in the own hands of the organizations undergoing it. Quite the contrary, when managers perceive the need for change, the process is already out of their control.

This emergency change, usually traumatic, will probably leave scars in the organizations suffering it and there is value loss in the way. When the magician “turns” a rabbit into a rain of confetti, the audience applauds, but nobody thinks of the rabbit again!

An example that could well fit in this type of change is observed these days at DIA, Spanish multinational operating in the discount supermarket field. They went into technical bankruptcy, closing stores and dismissing workers. No one doubts the traumatic nature of this situation for shareholders, workers and other stakeholders.

Change to face threats

Companies with adequate strategic management detect storms well in advance and introduce changes in their business models and operations in order to neutralize the threat and minimize its negative impact on business.

Defensive change poses certain difficulties: it must be planned and executed in parallel to continuation of ordinary business, precisely at times when these require the utmost executive attention; on the other hand, when facing a threat in real time, it is difficult or nearly impossible for companies to test different alternatives so they must choose one, with limited information available, between a reduced number of options.

We can observe this type of change, for instance, in two giants of mass distribution in Spain: El Corte Inglés and Mercadona. They are introducing changes in their successful models (i.e. reinforcement of online strategies or change in the models of collaboration with strategic suppliers) in the face of the threat of the irruption of competitors such as Amazon or Alibaba.

  • Change during good times

The most beneficial type of change is also the less frequent for various reasons, usually due to the old say: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’.

Nevertheless, in the current social and economic environment, we know that sooner or later we will be forced to change elements in our business that are considered fundamental and almost ‘untouchable’ today.

Management teams with the vision and ability to initiate change in times of growth and prosperity increase the possibilities of intensifying and prolonging their company’s favourable situation over time.

Strategic change is not intended to face threats currently affecting our business. It aims to create and seize opportunities, to generate competitive advantages long before competitors can perceive and fight the threat they pose.

The difficulty of detecting the opportunity and the audacity to invest resources on strategic change are widely compensated for the value it can create and by the low risk it represents. Having more time available to analyse and plan the change, the various alternatives can be tested through pilot programs, without interfering with ordinary business.

It comes to my mind -as a good example of this type of change- the recent move of IKEA, the Swedish manufacturer and distributor of furniture and household products, entering the furniture rental business (expanding its customer base and acquiring more knowledge of the use of their products so enabling the product improvement and offering a more ecological business model by means of recycling).

EXTERNAL RESOURCES: THE KEY TO SUCCESS OF CHANGE

We have gone through the differences between the three types of change analysed. They also have similarities:

  • They require management teams to detect the need for change (avoiding as much as possible the emergency changes).
  • They require a timely and objective diagnosis of the elements and the direction of change.
  • They absorb a significant amount of a very scarce resource: senior executive capacity, that, simultaneously, must pay attention to running current business.

That is why, in any case, having an adequate external support available in quantity (for the necessary time) and quality (experienced enough) can make the difference between success and failure in the processes of change.

An external senior executive or executive team brings:

  • the external view of the company and its environment, unbiased by the adherence to the current strategy.
  • the compulsory dedication and focus on the analysis and implementation of change, allowing the management team to focus on the current business while keeping them on the driver’s seat.
  • New or unavailable knowledge and skills, so accelerating the implementation and efficacy of the process of change.

Some organizations have embedded change and systematically allocate resources to it, as a key strategic process in their business models. For most companies, having external senior teams available is an excellent alternative to address change at any moment it becomes necessary.

Author’s profile: José Miguel Noriega

Also published at interimTalentia