Managing organizational change is complicated. Leaders must align people to the reason for the change, often working against long-standing habits and beliefs. Organizations are more likely to succeed when they plan change initiatives proactively and engage employees before, during and after the change. Below are the seven ways leaders can effectively manage change in their organizations.
1. Put people first
Successful change management prioritizes people. People fuel change and sustain its momentum. Change initiatives fail when the people involved don’t believe in or engage in the change.
Kotter’s change model, our preferred change management model, supports the need for putting people at the center of change management. In step one of Kotter’s model, leaders must create a sense of urgency among the people involved in the change. Step two builds a guiding coalition of employees to lead the change. Step four enlists a volunteer army — a large group of people to rally around the change and move the organization in the right direction.
Change initiatives will fail if people don’t believe in the change and aren’t mobilized by others to act.
2. Work with a change management model
Leaders are up against company culture, organizational momentum and human psychology when enacting change. To make change happen, they need the right tools to guide them. Change management models help leaders connect business strategy to action, which increases the likelihood of success.
There are a variety of change management models from which to choose (e.g., Prosci’s ADKAR model, Lewin’s Change Management Model, Kotter’s Change Management Model). Each model varies, but all follow the same core tenants of identifying needs and planning for and implementing change.
Kotter’s model puts people at the center of organizational change. It follows an eight-step process to successful change management. A change management model like Kotter’s helps leaders clarify the vision, organize change champions and set the strategy for change. It’s important to note that most change models lack communication strategy — a fundamental element to change management. We’ll cover the importance of communication in the next step.
3. Empower employees through communication
Communication is an essential part of effectively managing organizational change. A vision for change is only as powerful as the communication that supports it. Effective change management communication provides clarity for why the change is needed and mobilizes employees with a sense of urgency for the change. Companies fail to drive meaningful change when they fail to communicate.
Change management communication isn’t a one-time transfer of information. It requires commitment, clarity and consistency. It should engage employees through two-way communication methods like surveys, focus groups and informal feedback collection. When leadership involves employees, they feel valued. When employees feel valued, they are more likely to embrace change and participate in making it happen.
Two-way communication also helps leaders identify barriers to change before they become a problem. Proactively identifying barriers can enable the organization to respond to and dissolve issues that create change resistance.
4. Activate leadership
A recent Prosci survey cited “active and visible executive sponsorship” as the top reason change initiatives succeed. Leadership’s impact on change is well-understood. The problem is that many leaders don’t understand the vital role they play in change. Educate leaders on their roles, and you’ll enable them to advance change successfully.
- are responsible for achieving change goals from start to finish.
- help the organization understand and interpret what the change means for their teams, the organization and the marketplace.
- ensure those who enable organizational change stay actively involved.
- keep the train on the tracks and are ready to switch directions, choose a new path or create a new approach if necessary.
5. Make change compelling and exciting
There are two essential questions to answer when managing change: “Why is the organization changing?” and “Why should people care?”
Providing clarity on why change is necessary helps people see the role they play in it and inspires engagement and action. The shift — from employees implementing change simply because it’s their job to them believing in the change — is powerful. It turns leaders into champions for change. It converts employees into a mighty army moving in the same direction for change. Strong employee support deters change resistance that could hold the organization back.
6. Pay attention to high and low points in momentum
There will be both high and low points during change initiatives. Leaders can proactively manage and leverage these points in time. During the high points of change, leaders should celebrate wins to fuel momentum. At the low points, leaders can reset communication strategies to listen to employee input and build trust and support. Being proactive helps leaders manage momentum for the greatest success.
7. Don’t ignore resistance
Change resistance is poisonous to an organization’s transformation. Resistance is much easier to counter when it’s identified early. Leaders should pay attention to the signs of change resistance, including inaction, procrastination, withholding information, and the spread of rumors. Communication is the key to identifying resistance. Create feedback loops with employees, like surveys, feedback channels and input sessions to proactively identify signs of resistance, then take fast action.
Change is the lifeblood of successful, growing organizations, and the heart of change is people. Leaders position themselves and their companies for managing organizational change effectively when they proactively engage employees and ensure communication is clear, consistent and transparent.
About Lisa Hannum, President & CEO
Lisa Hannum is founder and CEO of Beehive Strategic Communication, a Certified B Corporation. She is a purpose-driven leader who believes in the power of communication to build better businesses for a better world. Lisa has more than 30 years of experience in brand positioning, change management, culture transformation, crisis and issues management, marketing and public relations. Her clients have included Verizon, 3M, Cargill, University of Minnesota Health and Beaumont Health. Lisa frequently speaks and writes on the business value of communication and workplace culture.