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5 Essentials for Better Change Management


Tue Apr 23 2024

5 Essentials for Better Change Management

With McKinsey reporting a whopping 70 percent failure rate for change efforts, we’ve probably all been part of a poorly managed change experience—either as a victim or an offender. The costs of failure can be high, including lost opportunity, wasted resources, and lowered morale. However, effective change management helps projects stay on schedule and on budget, achieve desired results, and increase change adoption.

To improve your odds of success, here are five essentials to better change management:


1. Combat change fatigue.

Change fatigue sets in when employees feel pressured to make too many transitions at once or when change initiatives have been rolled out too fast or put in place without enough preparation. Fatigue leads to “brain fog” and mental distance from one’s job, which makes it harder for employees to commit to change or be hopeful about a new vision. To address change fatigue:

  • Monitor fatigue as a readiness issue. Determine how much disruption is happening at any time and how much the organization can realistically handle. Assign priority levels to changes taking place.

  • Adapt cadence. Deploy or cascade change in smaller launches to reduce the degree and duration of stress during each change. Once you’ve set your cadence, stick to it.

  • Prioritize well-being. Approach well-being as part of a holistic business performance strategy versus a stand-alone wellness “program,” following the example of leading organizations like Verizon or Biogen. Well-being drives performance, increases engagement and retention, and improves change outcomes.

2. Reimagine change resistance.

Many symptoms of change resistance—from apathy, negativity, and detachment to extreme physical and mental exhaustion—are hallmarks of change fatigue and burnout. In today’s workplace, more than 80 percent of US workers say they’re exhausted from added workloads, hiring freezes, and the constant churn of multiple, stacked changes. Help managers view resistance as a reflection of change fatigue and encourage them to consider capacity issues when leading change. Teach them to:

  • Monitor workloads. Excessive work interruptions, meetings, and workloads make it harder for teams to engage in change. Encourage flexibility with deadlines and deliverables.

  • Examine mindsets. Monitor biases toward a “hustle and grind” mentality. Emphasize the role of rest and recovery in achieving peak performance.

  • Show appreciation and gratitude. Appreciation increases employees’ commitment, sense of belonging, and overall engagement—as well as their willingness to “go the extra mile” when truly needed.

3. Build change capability from the ground up.

Employees across all levels need support in driving and adapting to constant change and disruption. Growing capability from the ground up means that:

  • Change is part of everyone’s job. Employees across all levels should know their role and responsibility as change leaders. Build accountabilities and competencies into talent management processes from hiring to performance management.

  • Relevant tools and resources are available. Make a variety of tools, resources, coaching or mentoring forums, and self-directed learning options accessible before, during, and after a change effort. Provide employee resource groups, lunch & learns, and social learning opportunities.

  • Change is managed with a holistic, standardized approach. Create a change process that is systemic, disciplined, and well-integrated with existing infrastructures, operations, values, and standards.

4. Focus on the change experience.

Design change for the employee experience you want to create. Focus on the “what,” “why,” and “how,” with an emphasis on support mechanisms and tools. Change is more successful when individuals are engaged in shaping the change direction; feel confident that they can meet expectations; and receive frequent, transparent information and feedback. To improve the change experience:

  • Leverage change teams. Change-ready teams, networks, and communities of practice help build connections around a common change experience, improve knowledge-sharing across boundaries, and increase the likelihood of change success**.**

  • Be inclusive. Create opportunities for mid-managers, frontline leaders, and individual contributors to engage and express what they think, feel, and experience during change.

  • Enhance management support. Managers play a key role in increasing employees’ confidence and trust in change, yet managers are particularly vulnerable to the stress of heavy workloads and change fatigue. Ensure managers have a safe place to gain support and share their unique challenges so that they are better able to shape a positive change experience for their teams.

5. Measure results and collect continuous feedback.

An effective change management strategy includes a continuous feedback loop so that leaders can determine whether programs and processes are delivering on their promised value. Demonstrating value is one of the best ways to gain stakeholder support for future change efforts. Collaborate with stakeholders early on to identify and prioritize key performance indicators (KPIs) that are specific, measurable, and achievable. Partner with project managers to align change milestones with existing project plans and to coordinate measurement tools and methods. For best results:

  • Track progress across three levels. Measure organizational performance to determine whether a change effort met business objectives. Measure individual performance to assess individual levels of adoption and proficiency. Measure change management performance to determine how well the change management strategy was implemented.

  • Frame measurement as a continuous improvement tool. Use measurement data to inform decision making, prioritize resource allocation, and tell success stories about an initiative’s value.

  • Anticipate risks and barriers. Identify and remove on-the-job barriers to successful change outcomes. Reduce risks associated with performance anxiety or fear of failure by framing mistakes as “learning moments.”

  • Share ownership of results. Change management is a team sport and TD professionals can’t do it alone. When reporting results, give credit where credit is due and avoid shame and blame.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to better change management, TD professionals play a vital role in helping leaders and teams gain the skills, insights, and tools for navigating change amid constant disruption. How are you stepping up to your role as a change agent?

Use these tips to hone your change management muscles, be sure to monitor your own change fatigue, and check out my “Change Management” chapter in ATD’s Organization Development Handbook to learn more.

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