Put on Your Helmet - Change is a Bumpy Ride

Every semester I guest lecture for a business class at our local university on the topic of change management. It's an area in HR that doesn't get as much attention as it deserves, because in my experience, those with change management experience are the ones who think about how a project will impact people (instead of the budget or the technology, or the timeline, which is what the majority think about) - and that's the only way to make sure employees are prepared for change.

The class is called "Everyone is a Change Manager" and it's a concept I share with anyone who will listen, because it's built on the premise that you only have to ask two questions to start thinking like a change manager:

  • How will people react when this rolls out?
  • How will they feel?

The ability to lead change is related to career success.

Really, it is. If you're leading change, you're thinking about people. You're open to new ideas. You're not married to the old ways, and you're optimistic about what's coming. Guess what? Those are also qualities of a good leader.

True change management is an intersection of people and process, and when thinking like a change manager, you hone in on what people actually need, instead of what the subject matter expert thinks they need. Most change initiatives fail in some way and it's because most people can't stop thinking about the budget, technology and timeline long enough to think about the employees.

Good change management is hard. It's bumpy.

Certain tactics that work with one team (a lunch and learn, attending a team meeting) don't fly with another (surprise, the finance team would prefer an email because they're swamped with closing the books). And great ideas (a weekly email with tips, a launch party, posters) get labeled as "too HR" or too costly.

Then there's the change curve (this model comes from the Acuity Institute). Everyone goes through these stages when experiencing change and the goal of change management should be to minimize the amount of time a person spends in the Valley of Despair. If a pessimist who is deep in the Valley of Despair is the loudest person on the team, chances are others will adopt that same attitude and stay in the resistance phase longer. Oy.

There are also sources of complacency that prevent employees from not taking change seriously. Thoughts of "it's not happening for another 6 months so I don't need to attend the information session" or "no one else, especially my boss, seems worried about this, so why should I be?" prevent change activities from having a bigger impact and moving people along the change curve.

Embedding change into a company culture takes effort. It takes more than being on time and on budget. If you start thinking like a change manager, you'll have a huge impact on the perception others have of a project while also increasing the trust employees have in the company. Think about it: the value of a well-timed and well-written email (or information session) about a change that's getting ready to happen is priceless. Without it, employees think no one cared enough to share information with them or that the company wants to keep it a secret, and over time that creates a trust deficit.

Change Management isn't for the weak, though. So wear your helmet.