The way in which many people, in particular business people, approach change, throws up something of a dichotomy. On the one hand, any successful business is fully cognisant, at all levels, of the need for almost constant change and re-evaluation.
As technological advances alter the way in which we do business on a virtually weekly basis (ask yourself how many businesses, five years ago, had a social media strategy), so the need for businesses to shift and alter becomes ever more urgent. Good businesses recognise this fact, and are constantly re-evaluating and monitoring the way in which they do things in order to introduce change at the earliest opportunity. All too often, businesses wait until a problem occurs before making the changes which need to be made, but the truly pro-active professionals are those who keep their eyes fixed firmly on the horizon and recognise the need for change when it is desirable and advantageous rather than unavoidable.
The other side of the equation is the natural human impulse to fear change. The maxim that if it isn’t broke you shouldn’t fix it is one which has become a cliché because it slots so neatly into the basic human psyche. On a simple human level, if we’re happy with the situation as it is, we tend to shy away from making any change which might end up making matters worse, and on a business level this can extend to sticking with the same old methods and processes year in and year out. Businesses, such as those which have instituted the Lean Six Sigma methodology, spotting the need for change before a crisis hits, are then charged with the often difficult task of engaging the team tasked with delivering that change, and achieving that engagement is often the most vital component of ensuring that any change is successfully implemented.
The first, last and most important aspect of any engagement in the change process is simple involvement. The team whose job it will be to deliver the change should be involved in the process before it even begins. Talk to them about the kind of change which you think is needed and gain their input into how they think it can be delivered. Remember that any kind of change is going to operate on several different levels. On a broader level, it will affect the business as a whole and can be viewed in a fairly abstract manner as a shift in the delivery of processes or a change in emphasis when it comes to the application of certain methodology, but you should never allow yourself to forget the fact that these broader changes are going to impact upon individuals in a much more direct and intimate manner. Before changing the daily life of a member on your team – modifying their tasks, altering their working patterns or amending their duties – you should make a point of detailing clearly and precisely exactly why the change is needed.
Having established the need for change you should then involve the team itself in crafting exactly how that change is going to be delivered. This will have two distinct advantages. In the first place, a team which has been engaged on drawing up the parameters of change will be far better placed to deliver it, feeling a sense of ownership from the start of the process, and in the second place, the people who work on the front line or in the midst of a process on a day to day basis will be able to offer invaluable insight into what form of change would be best and how it could be most effectively delivered.
When the need for change and the type of change have been firmly set out, it pays to put them down in writing, drawing up an evaluation which can be used as a guide map going forward and a reference point looking back. If, at any point in the process, the change being delivered becomes muddled, over complicated or difficult to deliver, the original evaluation will act as a form of ‘reset’ button, reminding every party concerned of what is being done and why. Throughout the process of developing and delivering change, ensure that the channels of communication between you and your team are always open. Don’t assume, because they’ve been engaged from the outset, that the team is happy with the way in which things are moving. If there are any objections then it will pay to have them brought to your attention at the earliest possible date, rather than pushing on regardless and dealing with resentment and a lack of co-operation at a later date.
When the time comes for the change to be introduced it should be done so in as gradual a manner as possible, allowing the team to become fully conversant with each individual facet of the new process before the next one is brought on board. Again, communication is the key, and the fostering of an atmosphere in which members of the team will not be afraid to speak out if the change is being implemented too quickly for them to successfully handle. If the engagement process has been clear and thorough from the outset then the change process itself should proceed smoothly in a series of easily managed, incremental steps, each of which evolves to become simply the way in which things are now done. By bringing the team along with you, it should be possible to implement change in a manner which is seamless and which means the new processes come to be seen as simply the way things are done with the minimum possible disruption.