Seven Steps to Effective Change Management

Nov 24, 2016Change Management, Human Resources

As Charles Darwin reportedly said, “it’s not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change”. We all know that change is an inevitable part of life, in both our personal and professional worlds. And yet, despite years of experience with it, we often find that it doesn’t get any easier. Especially when it’s something we don’t want or it’s a change being made against our will. For better or for worse, this is usually what workers experience in large organisations. Effective change management strategies are necessary to help people adjust.

This resistance to change is supported by science. As Carol Kinsey Goman from Forbes writes, many of our work habits are controlled by a part of the brain called the basal ganglia. These habits become hard-wired and unconscious, and therefore feel comfortable and easy. By its very nature, change doesn’t work this way. If we want to be successful, we must become comfortable with the uncertainty of change, even in our jobs.

It seems that most people come to work and they want a degree of certainty. By this I mean that they want to feel that the tasks they need to do are within their capabilities. Employees don’t necessarily want every day to be the same, or for everything to be easy. This would get boring. But stretch people too much and it leads to stress.


In Stephen Kotler’s book ‘The Rise of Superman’, he states that in order to work at your peak performance – to be engaged or “in flow” – we need to exceed our comfort zone by only 4%. To trigger flow, the challenge should be 4 percent greater than the skills. The ideal balance we’re looking for is the end result of what’s known as the Yerkes-Dodson law. This states that increased stress leads to increased performance up to a certain intensity, beyond which performance levels off or declines.

So, how can we help people adjust and how can an effective change management strategy be put in place? Consider implementing the following steps:

1 Be open and honest about the change

Be open and clear about what the change will mean. This can help foster trust among employees and a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’. It is important to be realistic about what can be accomplished in a certain time-frame, and to expect disruptions and challenges to occur from the new change being implemented.

2 Explain the WHY

Although change isn’t always easy, it is important to be able to clearly articulate why it needs to occur. Inspire your employees. Keep them focused on all the positive benefits the change will bring, and motivate them with your positive attitude and expectations.


3 Let employees take ownership of the change

It is only natural that there should be a sense of ‘us versus them’ in organisations, whereby people see others in terms of the group or department they’re in. This can build resentment when people are comfortable where they are and don’t want the changes to occur, especially when they feel that they didn’t have a choice in the matter. For effective change management, give people more responsibility. People respond much more favourably when they tackle the change themselves.

4 Use and understand the role of emotion

Emotion can act as a powerful motivator. Research suggests that we rarely think logically, but that we are greatly influenced by the amygdala. This is a structure in the brain which plays a central role in processing our emotional reactions. If we want to inspire others to change, we must go beyond pure reasoning and logic, and tap into their emotional responses.

5 Define clear roles

Make change easier by making sure people know what to expect, and how it will affect them. Put a gap report in place and implement a development plan, if appropriate. Help people to adjust to the changing requirements of their positions, and make it interesting.


6 Provide training and support

For changes to stick with your employees, and for the changes to work effectively, team members need to be well-trained and to feel supported. Provide a scheduled ongoing training and support plan for effective change management.

7 Listen to and acknowledge feedback

New changes can be a huge success, or they can go belly-up – at least for a short time. It is important to listen closely to what your employees want to say, and to hear any ideas or suggestions they might have. This can be done informally through chats in the office, but it is a good idea to provide an anonymous survey at some point. This can help people to open-up and say things they might not be comfortable saying if they were face-to-face with you. It can also provide helpful and more honest feedback.


Final thoughts on effective change management…

Effective change management rarely (if ever) happens overnight. So, expect a slow start. Ensure that milestones are laid out and that employees are checked-in with regularly. Eventually people will adjust to the change and it will become second nature to them.

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