Managing change

Introducing organizational change, such as the implementation of new technology, can be a difficult task. How can you help your employees adapt?

Trust and communication — If your employees trust you, they tend to experience greater levels of satisfaction and co-operation at work. Establish open, trusting and cooperative relationships by engaging your employees: communicate with them, empower them to make decisions and support their choices on a regular basis. In turn, they will be more inclined to trust your instincts when you introduce change to the workplace.

Employee status — Employment status can determine loyalty, so your part-time, seasonal or contract employees may feel less committed to your corporate goals and proposed changes. Include them in planning meetings and training sessions, or when you send out information. It is a good idea to involve all parties affected by an organizational change in the change management process.

Organizational culture — Your long-term employees often set the standards of acceptable attitudes and behaviour within your business. They may do so inadvertently; nevertheless, their influence on organizational culture is important. You should manage their participation carefully so that they do not impede change.

With a culture of teamwork established prior to introducing change, you have a solid foundation upon which to build your change effort. In this case, your employees are accustomed to teamwork and already share the co-operative attitude necessary for your success.

Leadership — Your role as a leader is important to the success of implemented changes. Implementing a new system is not a minor operational issue. Changes in your business processes are strategic in nature, so anyone in a leadership role within your business should support them.

Phases involved in implementing change

You can make it easier for your employees to adapt to the new technologies or processes by approaching the changes in phases: preparation, acceptance, implementation and commitment.

Preparation: Build the foundation that leads to commitment

It is up to you, as business owner, to help your employees understand the need for change. If you can explain what is involved, they may begin to accept what is expected of them.

Before you start, there may be some preliminary questions to consider:

  • Is your own level of commitment to the change enough?
  • Have you considered all available opportunities, choices and risks?
  • Have you addressed any organizational or cultural barriers?
  • Have you provided for adequate training and support?

When you are ready, here are some steps that could help build the foundation:

  • Identify the need for change. Be clear about why you want it and make a compelling business case for moving forward.
  • Communicate with everyone involved early on to build trust and cohesion throughout the business.
  • Encourage dialogue among those affected by the change, including part-time and contract employees and those working offsite. Your goal is to get information and set the tone for future communication.
  • Determine how ready your business is to proceed with the change process by anticipating any sources of resistance within your business and the possible causes. Don’t try to suppress resistance; if it surfaces, deal sensitively with any emotional responses, and carefully manage expectations. Be clear about the results you want.

Acceptance: Get agreement and create a plan

To establish a course of action and get the support and resources to carry it out, consider the following questions:

  • Who will own the new automated process?
  • How should it be run?
  • How will you use the information?
  • Who is accountable for errors, inaccuracy, security risks and updating information?
  • How will you measure business performance?
  • Will the current organizational structure change?

When you implement different tools, you may have to redefine some jobs or create new ones, or even restructure departments and teams. Employees may fear that they will be unable to learn new skills, get along with new colleagues, or adapt to the new workplace.

Resistance is normal, especially if your employees don't know what to expect and are focused only on perceived losses. They need to participate in decision-making to feel that they have a voice and a sense of control over their fate. Supportive management and training can make all the difference.

At this point, you may want to consider the following steps:

  • Have key stakeholders endorse the new plan and reinforce their commitment.
  • Ensure that you have committed support in terms of money, time and people so that you can implement the change.
  • Establish a team to design the implementation process and the new structure.
  • Define the goals and targets that will move your business from its current situation to the desired position. Include short- and long-term goals related to suppliers, customers and competitors.
  • Develop a vision statement of how your business will operate, so that employees have guidelines to help them deal with any unfamiliar situations they may encounter in the new environment.

Implementation: Make the changes

As you make changes, step back and analyze the new systems and processes to check for any problems within the technical systems and the workflow. If there is a negative impact on the effectiveness of your business, some redesign may be necessary.

Implementing the change could include:

  • Physical and organizational restructuring
  • Development of procedures and methods
  • Installation and set-up of new equipment

Commitment: Sustain the changes

Reinforce the new process and behaviours expected of everyone involved through on-going communication. In order to establish commitment, you may have to:

  • Assess whether the results meet your original expectations.
  • Develop a system to continually evaluate and improve the process.
  • Ensure on-going support for the process by celebrating successes and recognizing or rewarding desired employee behaviour.
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