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Three misconceptions about change management – and how to get past them

December 08, 2021

Three misconceptions about change management – and how to get past them

Synopsis
7 Minute Read

Successful change management isn’t static. Read on about common pitfalls leaders face and how to avoid them in an increasingly digital world.

Senior Manager, Consulting

Change management is the art of making people successful when they do something new. It’s not always easy, but with the right advice and support, leaders can implement lasting, positive change even in the face of organizational inertia and employee resistance.

Why change management is important now

The COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to make rapid changes in operating models, and many learned a difficult yet important lesson: all change comes with a price. But how well did organizations deploy the time, money and resources needed to adapt? The most effective ones ensured resources were invested into making change a lasting success – and not merely into fixing unexpected outcomes.

How can leaders ensure they keep that lesson at the forefront going forward? One potentially valuable path is expert, third-party guidance, which can leverage the tools of behavioural science and behavioural economics to help people make the changes they want and integrate change management in pursuit of positive outcomes.

Barriers to positive and successful change

Change can be difficult, but it is made even harder by these common barriers, all based on misconceptions about the nature of change and the right way to manage it.

Misconception #1: “I don’t need expert help to manage change.”

Senior leaders are rarely hired to keep things the same. Usually, they are tasked with fixing something that is broken or needs to be overhauled or improved. Charged with creating change, leaders, too, often assume they can and should manage the task on their own.

The reality, however, is that change inevitably takes organizations and their leaders into uncharted waters. A thought partner who specializes in change management has already travelled these waters. They know what tools are available to manage change, can anticipate outcomes, help to communicate change and train those affected by it. They can support organizations in avoiding the pitfalls of change and realizing the opportunities that it may present.

Perhaps most importantly, an outside party can bring a fresh eye to the challenge of change, ask the questions leaders often can’t, and go straight to the people who will be most affected.

The pandemic effect

The COVID-19 pandemic forced change on organizations. They needed to adapt quickly to survive, and most did not have the luxury of exploring their options and defining longer-term goals. Today, many organizations are realizing they want to maintain some aspects of these changes, but also eliminate what no longer works for them.

 Perhaps they never had the capacity to manage complex change in the first place – they kept the wheels on the bus during the pandemic, but now realize they lack the capacity to examine every direction in which they might turn. A change management expert can help them decide which turn is the right one.

For example, a rapidly growing technology and media company wanted to redesign its organization to scale up but found they were too close to the issue to make effective change. They engaged third-party help, advisors who provided coaching, mentoring and perspectives from other industries, and models to help clarify and understand the decisions company leadership needed to make.

Employing a dynamic process of change helped the company move in fast, fluid and flexible ways – and it has confidently embarked on its mission to double its size.

Misconception #2: “It’s a small change, so I don’t need outside support.”

The truth is even apparently simple or minor changes in an organization can benefit from expert assistance. Complexity is not necessarily a function of the size of an organization, but rather the number of variables that need to be considered, the importance of the outcome and the speed at which change needs to happen.

For example, a manager might want to redeploy a few members of a team so they’re no longer working with one another; successful change management means ensuring each team member thrives in their new situation.

Or an organization might decide to hire more staff in response to increased workload. That addresses capacity issues – but now the business must implement a new layer of management to work seamlessly within the organization.

Or say an IT department changes a form employees have worked with for years. It seems like a small thing, but staff still need to understand why the change has been made, what happens when they press the new buttons and why the change is good for everyone.

Even the smallest change causes ripples

Misconception #3: “My people will follow orders when I tell them to change.”

Not every member of an organization will accept change. They may feel it represents a loss of control or they might feel emotionally unprepared. Employees may believe they lack the skills to thrive in a different environment. They may have experienced unsuccessful change before and see no reason to believe that it will be any different this time around.

Or they may simply be afraid of change itself.

A lack of team buy-in can be a change-killer. Yet managing resistance to change involves not only knowing where it is coming from, but also putting yourself in the position of those who are resisting. That can be a hard thing for leaders to do, and their first impulse can sometimes be to try and stamp out any resistance. Good change management experts take a different, more positive approach. They find and identify the energy devoted to resistance and then try to harness it and redirect it toward making change work for resistant employees as well.

Here’s a real-world example: A large retailer wanted to reschedule staff to times with higher buyer engagement. The result of the move was staff resistance, a spike in resignations, increased lateness, lower engagement, a worsening customer experience — and a reduction in sales. As leaders realized they had to manage change differently, discussions with long-time staff revealed what they love most about their work was helping people. A simple shift in messaging from “improve sales” to “improve helping people to buy” resulted in greater engagement, a better customer experience and an increase in same-store sales.

Transform your perspective

It’s important to realize the art of change management is itself subject to change and improvement. In short, in a faster, more flexible world, managing change has changed. Successful change management consultants are open to working with new organizational models and using state-of-the art tools, such as virtual and augmented reality, to simulate possibilities so leaders and employees can perceive and understand change more deeply.

If all senior managers are hired to make change happen, then change management experts are hired not only to maximize the success of the organizations they work with, but also to ensure they themselves understand the changes taking place in their own field of expertise. Armed with outside perspective, diverse experience and an openness to new ways of doing things, senior managers can be effective guides, advisors and even leaders of change for any organization.

To learn more about change management, contact Len Nanjad, Partner, Consulting Services, at 587.441.5480 or [email protected]

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