Imagine yourself as a leader inviting your team to a training session on effectively managing change. You have the best intentions. You want your team to understand change; how to effectively lead, manage and excel during change. You announce the training to your team and BOOM! The rumour mill is awash with stories of pending changes, each one more outlandish than the next. You work to respond to the questions and concerns but the stories take a life of their own. In my experience, talking about managing change scares everyone. It is no wonder so many organizations are reluctant to build much needed change skills. So the question is what can you do to ensure your team has the skills to manage inevitable change without wreaking havoc on your organization?
Opening that Can of Worms
Offering change management training can be like opening a can of worms. Even with the best intentions, things can go awry quickly if you are not prepared. However, having the right skills to manage change effectively is critical to maintain a productive workforce. When building change skills consider the following approaches to help reduce the trepidation felt by your employees:
Align you change training to your strategy – The role of a leader is to deliver the strategy. You need to ensure everyone understands how learning to manage change effectively is a business skill required to deliver this strategy, similar to negotiation skills or sales skills. Embedding the need for change skills within the strategy provides clear line of sight to your intentions.
Link your change training to a large change already announced – Provide the context for the change training by connecting the need for change skills to a change already in progress. I recently worked with an organization that launched a new approach to market and linked this change with the opportunity to provide training on change skills. This provides a two-fold benefit: the current change efficacy is improved and your team now has the skills in their toolkit for the next change that inevitably will come.
Frame your change training in terms ongoing development – Building skills to manage change should not be a ‘one and done’ event. Like other skill development it should be part of your training and development strategy. Use your employee needs assessment to highlight the need for change skills and create a pull within the employee population. We often use employee focus groups to help understand the desired development for the following year. Embedding change skills in this process makes it more of an ‘ask’ from employees and less of a suspicious, top down endeavour.
Ensure constant two-way communication – Even with the above steps taken, there may still be some questions/concerns raised. You need to create a venue to hear the issues and respond in kind. If you know what the rumour mill is saying/or might say, tackle it up front with candor and honesty. Completing the first steps will provide a strong foundation for you to respond.
Leading the Way
Having the skills to effectively manage change, I believe, is a competitive advantage. At the Schulich School and Business I teach students change skills that set them apart within organizations. They are graduating with the tools and understanding of change often lacking in organizations. In Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail, Kotter cites research suggesting that only 30 percent of change programs are successful. Work done more recently has proven this dismal percentage to be consistent over time. There is a burning platform to improve our success with change and building the skills to manage change is an essential step in the right direction.
So imagine yourself as a leader, inviting your team to training – what will you do to lead the way and drive home the skills required to manage ongoing change in your business?