The secret to a successful change management process

14 Feb 22 | Blog

Change. That’s the defining feature of the past few years (even if many of the days have felt the same!). In your organisation, maybe that’s manifested as a shift to hybrid working – or perhaps the last two years have delayed big transformational changes that are now underway. 

The trick to getting it right – and change not leading to disruption, disaster, and disrepair – is pretty simple, whatever’s going on. It’s about your employees.

What is change management?

First things first, let’s get the basics right. Change management is about the steps an organisation takes when they’re undergoing a big internal shift, or some other major change. You can think of it as either “adaptive” or “transformational” change i.e. things like rolling out your hybrid work policy, compared to things like mergers and acquisitions. 

The management part applies to your people. Because, after all, aside from all the finances and figures, your people are your organisation. If they’re not prepared for change, it just won’t happen. 

How successful are most change management models?

Most change management efforts just don’t work. It’s true, estimates vary from 50% to a 70% failure rate, but the fact is that most of us get it wrong. And that means the change process itself suffers – with another study finding that only 15% of organisations with bad change management met their objectives. 

But why do they fail? Well, it’s likely there are multiple factors:

  • Check-ins: one study pointed specifically to the time between project reviews i.e. if they’re not frequent enough, change efforts are likely to fail
  • Workload: an increase of more than 10% in your employees’ workloads was also shown to be a clear route to failure
  • Commitment: on all levels, commitment to change is crucial – and in senior leadership, the visibility of support was shown to be essential to getting wider backing

Employee buy-in and commitment: your #1 priority

Your top team needs to be 100% behind upcoming changes… but it’s equally as key, if not more so, that all your employees are. From the smallest cog to the largest, if anyone refuses to turn then you’re going to have problems.

Low motivation and morale, reduced productivity, disengagement, staff turnover, missed deadlines, project failure – the consequences could be disastrous. But there are some things you can do to get your employees on board…

Over-the-top leadership commitment 

This really does matter. If employees don’t perceive the senior team to be fully backing changes, then why would they? And they won’t understand the importance of the programme unless you make it absolutely crystal clear. One recommended tip is to talk up the changes 3x more than you think you should, before it’ll really resonate. 

Involvement & ownership, on every level

Analysis of a real-world change management scenario showed something interesting. More successful outcomes were seen when workers participated in making change happen – with ownership over finding solutions a big motivator. Get everyone involved and give them ownership over their small part, and they’ll be invested in success.

Make a case for change, show your workings

The reason for these big changes might be obvious to you – but are they for everyone? No-one’s going to get excited about months of disruption if they don’t know why it’s happening. Communicate the reasons, make a case for change, and give them hard evidence. 

Regular, comprehensible communication

Studies show that regular check-ins – without big gaps between them – are linked to successful change outcomes. That’s one aspect. Another is making sure everyone understands what you’re saying. Whatever the complexity, from ‘new hybrid work policy’ to ‘merger’, assume people need help interpreting what’s going on.  

6 simple reasons employees push back

You may be thinking: “we’ve done all of that, and we still see pushback!”. You might even be baffled at why staff spend energy on pushing back at all – why can’t they go with the flow? To answer that, just recognise what your employees are: people. 

There’s 6 reasons employees push back, and understanding them is a good starting point: 

  1. Social change

It’s natural to be afraid of change. But for your average employees, that fear relates to the social change that could be a consequence. Hierarchies, team structures, even seating plans – all these things affect the day-to-day social experience of work. 

  1. Self-preservation

Change programmes are, in a word, disruptive. From your daily tasks, to your overarching priorities and goals, they turn the status quo upside down. Resistance from employees can be an attempt to preserve the way they work right now.

  1. Self-interest

No-one wants to backslide. Certain employees might feel threatened by change initiatives, especially if they sense they might be losing influence. They could also fear bigger, more drastic changes like redundancies or restructures too.

  1. Blind spot

Due to their role, some employees might not see the need for change – or have strong feelings about the direction of change, based on their individual expertise or experience. If they feel your change initiative is objectively wrong, they won’t get behind it.

  1. Lack of trust

It’s a symptom of a much bigger problem, but an existing trust problem could floor you completely. With a reputation for a lack of transparency and honesty, employees are going to be dubious about any significant organisational change. 

  1. Unwritten contract

Change can rewrite the ‘unwritten contract’ between employer and employee. Pay versus output, day-to-day expectations, non-financial perks… all these things could shift in a way that your team isn’t happy with. 

Listening the most important of all the change management principles

To get change management right, to get employee backing, to succeed in your initiative – to do all this, there’s one crucial action. And it’s a simple one: just listen. 

Research backs this, for one. A survey from Google showed that, in essence, employees just want to speak and be heard. It’s also a truth ever-evident that leadership don’t always ‘get’ what their employees need to do their best. A good way of finding out? Asking!

Use our Organisational Fitness survey when you face change

What is organisational fitness? It’s about understanding your people through-and-through, and assessing how resilient they are in the face of change. It asks your employees about 16 key areas – from ‘leadership’ to ‘inclusion’ – to get a 360 degree view of your organisation’s generalcapacity for performance.

Qlearsite organisational fitness

We’ve also proven that if you have a high ‘org fit’ score, you’re:

  • 4.6x times likely to have high revenue growth
  • 16x times more likely to have better customer service
  • 1.4x times more often to be the most profitable in their sector

It’s not all bad news if you don’t score high – it just means you have a clear view of what your employees need to get there. 

What really is good news is that you can try our organisational fitness survey for free. Sign up to our Employee Feedback Platform (no payment details needed) and you can start listening to your teams.

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