Five steps to making business change stick

Jenna Phillips Edward Wallace

By Jenna Phillips, Edward Wallace

Change management can be an amorphous concept and capability in business operations. It incorporates training, communications, stakeholder engagement, staff coordination, new ways of working and much more. And it’s rooted in organisational culture.

This people-side of change is vital to making a success of change programmes, yet large organisations often have poor change management. It’s something we’ve seen in many organisations that have told us they struggle to make change stick. So, we’ve defined five key insights from our work that can help you make change stick in your organisation.

1. Educate all levels, especially leaders, about the role and value of change management

Throughout our change management work, we often meet people across levels in the organisation who have never heard of change management, and they sometimes question the value of dedicating people to the role. Rather than assuming everyone knows what change management is, it often helps to build foundational knowledge to make sure stakeholders throughout the organisation understand the scope and benefits of change management.

Executive briefings in the weeks and months leading up to the change can be very helpful to drive adoption and buy-in for change management, as can office hours for people of all levels to ask questions about what the change entails for them, and seeking input from executive sponsors to ensure the change approach aligns to the strategy and tactics they want to promote in the organisation. Providing opportunities for open conversation helps ensure that everyone understands what’s happening. Some leaders even reach out to us later to support a business change that they’re implementing. For example, when implementing a new software system at a large healthcare organisation, we hosted office hours for the teams whose workflows would be changed with the implementation. Office hours provided an opportunity to discuss and ask questions about both change management and the new processes we were implementing. Similarly, in the same organisation, we held monthly executive briefings about our change management activities, sharing insights gleaned from the frontline staff and our ongoing work.

2. Don’t let the process overwhelm the outcomes

Most organisations that have a dedicated change management team also have dedicated change management processes and tools. They might have adapted these from other published works on change management, or developed them specifically for their culture and team. Nevertheless, we have seen change management stakeholders grow very beholden to those tools and processes, losing sight of the goals of change management from a people perspective.

Completing a change impact assessment or stakeholder analysis might make you feel like you’re on top of the change by keeping organised and following the rules, but not every business change will require the full suite of tools and processes. Moreover, your stakeholders could get bogged down in the administration of change management and become fatigued by all the tasks, meetings and processes. We recommend doing only the activities that really add value in driving through the necessary changes. For example, at a technology start-up, many leaders had joined the organisation from much larger companies and had tools and expertise from those large companies that they wished to use for change management. The start-up culture, however, was very action-oriented and teams did not see value in completing extensive documentation to implement a new way of working. We worked with teams and leadership to identify and use only those tools and processes that provided value and aligned to the culture of the company.

3. Engage key stakeholders, but don’t let them slow you down

In engaging stakeholders, it’s tempting to be very open with the change management process, seeking input from on-the-ground team members and business leaders alike. While we recommend communicating early and often about the change, you should avoid taking on every piece of feedback. It would be impossible to take everyone’s advice and still deliver the change successfully.

In our experience, most stakeholders often seek empathetic listening. So, welcome insights, comments and feedback from across the organisation in a structured and timeboxed way, such as we did at the large healthcare organisation with our monthly executive briefings. Once you receive the feedback, adopt or implement only the activities and approaches that serve your aim of successfully delivering the change.

4. Develop an internal network of change ambassadors who will own the change

For the change to stick, the people whom the change affects must own it as their new way of working. Regardless of who is leading the change – internal business leaders or external consultants – the people who are being changed eventually must accept ownership of the new way of working.

In our experience, transferring ownership of the change to the business as early in the process as possible prevents stakeholders from feeling that they’re being “done to” rather than “doing.” For large changes like system implementations at big companies, we establish a network of change ambassadors who work with their peers to act as trailblazers or champions. They spread information about it, educate their colleagues and serve as a peer resource if questions or consternation arise during the process. Our change ambassadors receive extra or early training on the new ways of working and work with support staff and business leaders during the implementation to make sure no one is left behind as the new way of working goes into effect.

5. Don’t forget the importance of change management after implementation

Finally, remember that change management activity must continue even after the change goes live. We have often seen organisations put a lot of effort into change preparation, only to stop all change-related support, training and communication mere days after the new system or process goes into effect. Even the best prepared team members are likely to feel some apprehension and have questions about the new way of working as they experience real-world scenarios, rather than those they experienced during training. Depending on the impact of the change, we recommend that change support be available for at least two to four weeks after a go-live date, and longer if the new way of working has a very large impact on team members’ day-to-day work.

After implementation, change ambassadors can be a major asset to an organisation looking to support a large team. Relying on the change ambassadors to organise team huddles, commend great performance through, or identify team members who are having trouble is a great way to pass the ownership of the change to the teams while ensuring there’s enough ongoing support. We have also had success holding town hall-style meetings for all affected staff at companies of all sizes, leading focus groups and hosting office hours in which team members can ask questions in a supportive environment. These activities make team members feel supported in the early days of the new way of working and help the organisation assess what went well during the change preparation and implementation, and what to improve for future implementations.

While organisations sometimes overlook change management, we’ve found business changes that have dedicated change management resources are likelier to enduring results. By focusing on education, outcomes, feedback and your people, and ensuring support lives on past the go-live date, organisations can maximise value from new ways of working while supporting people.

About the authors

Jenna Phillips
Jenna Phillips PA healthcare expert Jenna collaborates with stakeholders throughout the healthcare system to design and implement complex strategy initiatives
Edward Wallace
Edward Wallace PA healthcare expert Edward has experience working on major organisational design programmes with a focus on capability & people development

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