Three tempting shortcuts to resist when implementing a change initiative
Updated: May 2
Change management seems a popular buzzword these days. From business articles to job descriptions, change management—as a concept, at least—is gaining traction across the business world. That’s great news, given the impact a functional approach to change management can have on the success of a project.
Yet not all change management is treated equally. And, when factors like executive expectations or looming deadlines stress the project, many are tempted to take shortcuts and skip steps that are critical to managing organizational change successfully.
Shortcut 1: Not engaging leadership
Change management experts extol the importance of executive sponsorship to help ensure those affected support and sustain the change. That’s not only a best practice, but it can also be critical to the project, especially if your audience is resistant to the change.
Ideally, an executive sponsor should be actively engaged in the project and influencing other leaders to act as advocates throughout the duration of the change effort. Of course, it can be difficult for executives with busy schedules to see where this type of support would be possible or necessary. That’s one reason change managers are tempted to skip this step.
The availability of an actively engaged leader should not be an excuse to forgo engaging leadership altogether. If you cannot find someone in a leadership role who is willing to engage for the entire span of the change effort, consider asking them to help with the initial announcement.
The greater the scope of change, the higher up in leadership and greater number of leaders should be engaged.
Leveraging someone from upper management to announce the change through various communications channels can be extremely helpful for demonstrating the initiative is supported at the top level. In addition, leadership can position the reason for the change as fitting into a broader corporate vision. This one task can have a surprising effect on employees’ willingness to participate and support the change.
Shortcut 2: Not leveraging advocates
One of the best ways to gauge the impact your change plans will have on your audience is to simply ask them. Yet, you’d be surprised how often this step is skipped by well-meaning project managers whose primary focus is finishing the project on time and on budget. We have seen many a project derailed by a resistant naysayer who is unafraid to share their dismay widely and loudly.
Escalations from disgruntled individuals can often be prevented by simply anticipating their resistance. Pull them together—especially those most likely to be your loudest critics—as an advocate team to share their honest opinions about your plans. Even a small group of highly engaged stakeholders can act as a canary in the coalmine, alerting you to roadblocks you may not have anticipated.
Engage them early and they can help determine if your processes and tasks work and make sense. Continue to leverage these folks throughout the change initiative to test whether your communications, tools, and messaging resonate. And in many cases, you can even call on them to act as advocates for your efforts, spreading your message among their peers.
Shortcut 3: Not measuring sentiment
When timelines are compressed—which often seems to be the case with change initiatives—one of the first steps to be eliminated is an effort to measure audience sentiment before the launch of the project. This is likely because the act of surveying your audience—especially if it is a large one—can require time and effort from your change team.
Resist the urge to move forward without first measuring the sentiment of those who will experience the change, even if you can only survey a small sample of your audience. This step provides tangible data points to paint a “before-and-after” picture, which is always appreciated by management and sponsors of your initiative.
Surveys that measure how aware and prepared your audience is for the change can help you measure the effectiveness of your efforts. Use the results to improve or validate your approach to the current project. Then, use the data to influence future change management programs or projects.
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