As the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, once said: “The only thing that is constant is change.” This statement has never been truer for organisations than it is today.
Change is generally a good thing – it spurs innovation and stops organisations, and its people, from stagnating. But constant change can mean serious challenges for professionals and so needs to be managed well.
With a little help from our Head of Learning Solutions, Andy Kennard, we look at the specific challenges organisations face as a result of change, and how you can manage it so that your people, and your bottom line, benefit.
Managing constant change
Change creates three major challenges.
1. Change fatigue
“Change is hard work and takes effort,” says Andy, “so people often feel they need time to catch their breath before moving onto the next change. However, this break from change is a rarity in most organisations, and people need to build their levels of resilience to cope effectively.”
2. Shifting priorities
Unpredictable environments mean that what was once a priority and a great idea today may not be tomorrow. This may result in projects being, changed, postponed or even cancelled, which can often lead to frustration.
“Communication is key here,” says Andy. “Let people know what has changed and why as soon as possible. Often this is not a reflection of how well the project has been run but, without the proper communication, it may feel like that to the project team. Stopping a project because it is no longer viable can, in fact, be instrumental to ongoing success. Innovative organisations learn to fail fast so they can dedicate time and resources to projects that yield the best results.”
3. A need to be open-minded
In a predictable environment, you can create a plan of where you want to go and follow it until you reach your destination. But when unpredictable forces are at work, you need a creative approach to managing change. “How do you know your plan is still valid if the environment has changed mid-project?” asks Andy. “That’s why it’s always best to adopt a Plan-Do-Check-Act approach to keep tabs on progress and regularly test your plan against the environment.”
So, what can managers do to create a culture that embraces change and uses it to drive achievement?
“The most important thing about managing change effectively is communication,” says Andy. “Any major change should be supported by a plan that identifies the different messages to be communicated throughout the project life-cycle, the channels of communication and the timing for each message.”
“Managers should understand the full impact of the change on all stakeholders. There will be gains and losses associated with any change, but they may be different – in terms of what they are and the level of impact – for each of the stakeholder groups or individuals. If you take time to understand these impacts, and give people the opportunity to express their ideas and concerns, you can then work with them to minimise the negatives and maximise and positives.”
“Consider the fact that everyone has an emotional response towards change that is not always consistent – it will change over time. Understanding where your team are on this journey is key to help them deal with the change. Managers often forget that they’ve had more time to adjust to change then their team, and are further on in their own change journey. That’s why it can sometimes feel like your team are not quite ‘with you’. It’s not that they won’t be, but more likely they haven’t had time to get to where you are. Your job is to help them catch up and not alienate them by ploughing ahead regardless.”
Those who learn how to face the challenges of change head on will be best equipped to deal with the future. Putting the right infrastructure in place, so it supports your people throughout the change, is vital to success, and leads to a much happier working environment to boot.