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Five Ways to Create Successful Change in the Workplace

The failure rate of change initiatives crucial to an organization's success is estimated between 50 to 70%. Many common reasons for this failure rate include lack of organizational readiness; unprepared executive management; unclear direction and focus; lack of resources; and underdeveloped training and sustainability strategies. So what does it take to create successful change in the workplace? Some of the solutions are the same reasons why change fails:

1. Determine Organizational Readiness. Organizational readiness is key to creating successful change in the workplace. Many seasoned professionals can point to a time where they pushed instead of pulled when they should have simply waited for the right timing.

Consider the amount of change that has occurred in the workplace and ask these questions:

• What kind of changes has this organization had in the last several years?

• What did that change do to the infrastructure?

• Are the systems in place to support another change (i.e., accounting systems, human resource systems, information technology, compensation systems, etc.)

• Does the organization have the resources necessary to absorb more change?

• What are the other changes the organization still needs to implement?

• How will the internal and external customers perceive this change?

• How could this impact the organization financially both short- and long-term?

• Does the organization have organizational metrics and stakeholder feedback to support new programs?

• What needs to be developed to support the change in all areas of the organization?

2. Prepare Managers to Implement the Change. Managers need to be trained to deal with the change. It is often a disastrous assumption that because people are in management positions they’ve dealt with organizational change in their work history. Even with unprecedented organizational change in the way of layoffs, divestitures, closures, etc., some managers just haven't seen that kind of change. In addition, they may have to resolve their own feelings around the change. It is important to train managers about how to handle the transitions for themselves and their staff.

It is also important for the manager to understand the current state of the company and the desired state. This is important in laying the groundwork for questions that will come from employees who are affected by the change.

3. Communicate Often and Frequently. There's nothing like the office grapevine to usurp the best laid plans. Remember to communicate the change often, why the change needs to occur, and what it means to the employee. The biggest detriment to the company in not communicating often and frequently is losing good employees. Once good employees hear that future opportunities might not be available, they are often the first ones to update their resumes.

4. Use all Communication Channels. One of the most misunderstood or ignored parts of creating successful change in the organization is how to use all communication mediums and methods of communicating. Mediums include e-mail, voice mail and visual aids during the presentation. Methods include face-to-face meetings and communication before and after the meeting.

The reason you want to use a mix of mediums and methods is that people receive their information in different ways, and think about the information in different ways. Some people need to see graphs and tangible items, some want their information in concise bulleted statements, yet others need detail and some want to know the next steps in the process. Some people want to receive their information face-to-face and have dialog about it while others need to think about it and process it. These are critical elements in creating successful organizational change.

For example, in your e-mail communication, you want to use the following format:

• An executive summary that includes no more than three to five critical points. This will be read by people who like their information in bullet points or people who scan for information.

• The second section should identify the contact person that will answer specific questions. This section is for people who have a high sense of urgency and/or those who need questions answered that are not detailed in the email.

• The third section adds more detail and expands on the previous three to five critical points. This third section is for people who need a great detail of information in order to implement ideas and plans.

A communication plan to implement change might include this process:

• Send out a brief e-mail that identifies the date, time place and purpose of the meeting.

• Send a voice mail blast that reminds the employees of the face-to-face meeting.

• At the face-to-face meeting where those people who prefer face-to-face communication will be in attendance:

* Share what the change will be and why the company is making the changes.
* Outline how the change will affect them.
* Send the email summarizing key points using the outline above.

• Have a mechanism for people who need to think and process information. This communication tool could be a question and answer document in an e-note or e-newsletter that could be sent to the entire company.

Change will be continual and employees can become more comfortable with it if some of their key communication motivators are met. A variety of mediums with a multi-dimensional approach are keys to achieving successful organizational change.

5. Include Strategic Planning and Sustainability Elements. In addition to creating a team that has a variety of people (the idea-makers, the verbal communicators, the processors, the jugglers, the proof-gatherers and the expeditors), it is equally important to include the strategic planning and sustainability elements.

Gone are the days of five- to 10-year strategic plans. With the integration of the Internet, change is now happening too fast; however, the plans should be:

• Agile to support ongoing change and focused to achieve organizational results.

• Holistic and include all of the internal factors (systems, staffing, finances, etc.) and external factors (market, environmental concerns, legislation). Oftentimes, strategic plans become the book on the shelf. The plan should align all of the facets of the organization infrastructure—including values, vision, guiding principles and how those areas will become integrated into the plan.

• Foster direction and value. Each plan should answer the question: is this plan and activity focused on what's most important in the organization?

Along with having a strategic plan, sustainability elements need to be built in. Oftentimes people get into the habit of execution and forget to look at the quality and sustainability. Are things changing in the market that don’t align with the product? How can this project be sustained in a changing market? How can we ensure standards are continually met even with staff turnover? It is important to look at tangibles (product quality) and intangibles (knowledge retention.)

Taking It All In

Creating successful change in the workplace is multi-dimensional. It is a process of keeping at the big picture in mind, ensuring executable components are in place, and continuously maintaining and evaluating the infrastructure to ensure it is relevant. Above all, make sure that the entire team is on board and utilize a multi-method approach to communication. These approaches can help create successful change in the workplace.

Lisa Mininni is author of Me, Myself and Why? The Secrets to Navigating Change and president of Excellerate Associates. Excellerate Associates helps transform organizations by providing the building blocks to create change laying the foundation to continuous improvement and change through consulting, coaching and hands-on training.