How to manage the pain of change


While working on a major change management project I have been thinking about the nature of change and what it takes to manage the process successfully. It strikes me that many businesses struggle with an apparent tension between the desire to define their organisation’s strategy and structure for the foreseeable future, and the recognition that their world is in a constant state of flux. Of course the harsh reality is that, while the long term vision can remain constant, a company’s strategy must be flexible and capable of modification to reflect ever-changing internal and external environments.

The issues that arise in any change project are as much to do with people as process. Leading transformation successfully involves a deep understanding of people and their behaviour, knowing what is likely to motivate people to do things differently, why they resist change and how to communicate effectively throughout the process. It also involves identifying the people who are going to help you in your mission (the ‘change champions’) and those who are likely to generate conflict and hostility. The process nearly always involves taking some tough decisions about people and are likely to lead to difficult conversations with those who cannot cope with the transformation or the planned future. These people issues are probably the most difficult for any leader to manage successfully. What can we do to help people through change?

The process works best if your team works in an environment that enables change. In such a setting they are more likely to respond positively to the change you want to make. To create a ‘change-ready’ environment consider the following:

• Regularly set the expectation that things will change and continue to change

• Explicitly encourage and recognise behaviours that support or enable change

• Support continuous innovation and improvement in working practices

• Give your team familiarity with change. Involve them in change projects

• Establish a culture that values flexibility and encourages flexible ways of working . In this way people are less inclined to feel they own a job or have various entitlements that might hold up the change process.

Change projects may be large scale but never forget that change happens at the individual level. You can’t necessarily deal with everyone individually but certain steps should be taken to consider how your people will fit into the new scenario. Consider the following questions for each person affected by the change:

• Do they understand the change and what it means for their role?

• Are they capable of working in the new set up? Who needs coaching or training?

• Are they willing to work in the new set up

• Are they motivated to work differently without reverting to the old ways of working

As the saying goes “We change our behaviour when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.” Pain is an inevitable aspect of change. But however uncomfortable or difficult it may be, you must be able to manage change successfully. Change is not an occasional event but an ongoing part of every manager’s job.


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