Here at Advisory Works, when we work with a business on strategy, we don’t just leave after the document has been approved and signed.
The most important part of the process – disciplined execution – is still to come, and this is usually the area where strategy fails. Why? People are notoriously resistant to change.
What causes resistance to change?
The main causes of resistance to change arise from fear. That may be fear of conflict, as change causes a person to come into contact with new people and new situations that can create anxiety. Fear of being held accountable and being “punished” for mistakes makes people not want to disrupt the status quo. And fear of failure and losing one’s job – and with it, security for one’s family – make avoiding risk seem like a perfect idea.
We’ve spoken before about how a good leader makes their team feel safe. Nowhere is this more important during a time of strategic realignment and change. How do you do this? Through a robust change management process.
What is change management?
Managing organisational change is about much more than just implementing new policies or strategies; at its core it touches on psychology, behavioral science, systems thinking and many more disciplines. Change creates disruption, and the ease to which your company and people adjust to that disruption will mark how well you perform in the market.
To manage change successfully, your organisation has to deal with the wider implications of that change. Change not only has tangible impacts on business lines and strategic direction, but it impacts employees – and often clients and customers – on a deep, personal level. Change confronts and challenges. It supports and disrupts. This is way any successful change management strategy focuses not on the organisation, but on the people.
Effective change management varies from firm to firm, but it will often incorporate some of the following techniques, as outlined in this discussion with John Spence:
- Create an irresistible case for change: You have to show people there is no other option – there’s no going back. Change absolutely must happen. If you don’t close the door to the past, people will cling to the other ways and no change will happen.
- Define a clear and compelling vision for the future: This is what your strategy will outline. You need to show people what the future looks like, and get them excited about the role they will play within that future.
- Create a sense of urgency: You need to move people into the change quickly, otherwise they become complacent and will slip back to their old ways.
- Have a guiding coalition of people who wave the change flag: This is all about leadership. You need all your organisational leaders (not just your senior leaders, but leaders from “within the ranks”) to be change agents – fully aligned, 100% committed, and ready to champion change.
- Plan for small wins: In the strategy, plot out specific small wins, so that you can show your team regular achievements weeks and months out from the initial change. This helps to keep momentum going.
- Empower employees to own the change process: When employees own the change process, they’ll be fully committed to it. This ensures the change becomes part of the company culture.
Change management is a broad discipline that requires the instigator to invoke a wide range of skills in order to ensure change is communicated clearly, implemented painlessly, and promoted enthusiastically. If these policies and programs are in place, resistance to strategic change will become a thing of the past.
How does your company manage strategic change? Learn more about change management and strategic execution in our free guide, The Four Cornerstones of Strategic Execution.