Leaders challenge the status quo. They not only see what’s possible; they pursue what’s possible. Implementing change requires strong leadership and excellent management skills. Some of the major changes companies have implemented in recent years include:
- Acquisitions and mergers
- Six Sigma quality programs
- Lean manufacturing
- Continuous improvement initiatives
- New company culture
- New organizational structures
In pursuing any major change, it is important to understand the following roles:
- Sponsor—This is the senior level person (president, vice president or other senior executive) who wants the change to occur. The sponsor provides the resources needed to make the change happen. In addition, he provides legitimacy and visibility for the change initiative.
- Support Group—This is a small group of people who act like a board of directors for the change. This group of 8-to-12 people provides advice, guidance, and support.
- Project Manager—The project manager creates a detailed project plan. This includes resources (human and financial) timeframes, milestones and actions required. Project manager needs a strong working relationship with the sponsor. He/she must be able to openly discuss relevant issues and make course corrections as needed.
- Target Group—The group of people who must change in some way. For example, the target group could be production employees, middle managers, a department, or the entire organization. In every change initiative, it’s important to pinpoint the attitude and behavior you want the target group to exhibit in the future.
- Secondary Group—This is the group that must change to support the changes being made by the target group. The secondary group is often the managers of employees in the target group.
Driving Forces and Resistors
It is always helpful to understand who supports the change and who opposes it. Kurt Lewin, an American social psychologist, developed the concept of Force Field Analysis. It is a simple tool that visually illustrates the pro-change forces, the forces resisting change and who’s on the fence. For change to occur, the driving forces must be greater then the restraining forces.
I have found that about 20-30 percent of the employees resist almost any change. A small percentage of resistors (5-10 percent) will be very vocal in complaining about the change.
How should manager/leaders deal with these naysayers? Listen to their concerns and comments. Resistors may have some valid points that should be considered. When resistors feel their views are heard, they are more likely to listen to other points of view. Ask resistors to stay open and give the change a try. However in some cases you need to remove resisters even if their performance is satisfactory.
Planning the Implementation of Major Change
The project leader needs to create a master plan that addresses the following:
- Kick-off Event —Like a politician announcing his or her candidacy, the kick-off event is the opportunity for the sponsor to:
– announce the change
– explain the compelling reason for the change
– describe how it will help employees and the companyIn addition, the sponsor should provide a high-level overview of the implementation schedule, including key milestones.
The kick-off event needs to be festive, exciting, and uplifting. Some kick-off events include giving employees hats, t-shirts and other mementos that relate to the change initiative.
- Training and Orientation—Change requires employees to think and behave in new ways. It is important to provide the target group and the secondary group with the knowledge and skills needed for success. The first step is conducting a needs assessment. The next step is designing or finding the right training program. Just-in-time training works best. Train people on Wednesday and have them using the new skills on Thursday.
- Monitor and Measure—The project manager needs to monitor performance and measure results. The sponsor of the change needs to monitor the overall plan and keep the support group informed and engaged as needed. Implementing any major change requires course corrections and adjustments as you go.
- Reward and Recognize—Establish specific dates when you will reward and recognize both the target group and the secondary group as they achieve short-term wins. That builds momentum and keeps people motivated. In some events, the change sponsor should be the one doing the recognizing.
- Ongoing Progress Reports—Keep people informed via the company newsletters, group meetings, memos, e-mails, videos, and one-on-one informal conversations. The sponsor and project leader should meet periodically with the support group to discuss relevant issues.
- Institutionalize—The changes need to be integrated into the company’s policies, procedures, and job descriptions. One consultant advises, “Make sure the infrastructure supports the new changes. That makes the change stick.” The boring and not-so-exciting actions, such as updating procedures and manuals makes the change become part of the company culture.
Implementing a major organizational change is hard work. The senior leader who’s sponsoring the change must understand the roles and responsibilities of the support group, the project manager as well as his/her own role in making the change happen. Leaders not only challenge the status quo they take steps to achieve a better future.
© 2009 – 2014, Paul B. Thornton. All rights reserved.