Article: Managing change: An imperative competence

Performance Management

Managing change: An imperative competence

Every organisation needs to change with time, failing which it stands the risk of being pushed into oblivion by the more enterprising and agile competitors and being labelled as obsolete
Managing change: An imperative competence

Organisations often fall back on the argument that change management failures are due to inherent resistance to change


Change happens in two dimensions - the Business dimension and the People dimension. Successful change happens when both dimensions of change occur simultaneously


Every organization needs to change with time, failing which it stands the risk of being pushed into oblivion by the more enterprising and agile competitors and being labelled as obsolete. The ability to change and adapt is critical to market leadership and business success. However, more progressive organizations generally anticipated the on coming change and proactively embark upon a change management initiative.

Simply put, Change Management is a set of processes, tools and techniques to move from current to desired future state and successfully achieve the set objective. Organizational Change Management includes high level of engagement and activities like communications, training and measurement systems.

Change happens in two dimensions – the Business dimension and the People dimension. Successful change happens when both dimensions of change occur simultaneously. Often, change management teams focus on specific business results and thereby miss the significance of the second dimension. 2007 Best Practices in Change Management report by McKinsey and Prosci has demonstrated a direct correlation between achieving the business objectives and effective management of the people side of that change. Research also shows that unresolved issues with the people dimension of change are the most common reasons for failures. Lack of support and buy-in, accompanied by lack of readiness at each level – employees, line managers and senior leadership – is what makes the difference between an abandoned initiative and one that contributes to organisation’s growth.

Effective management of the people dimension of change management requires managing five key goals that form the basis of the well respected ‘ADKAR model’: Awareness of the need to change, Desire to participate and support the change, Knowledge of how to change and what the change state will look like, Ability to implement the change on a day-to-day basis and Reinforcement to keep the change in place. Organizations often fall back on the argument that change management failures are due to inherent resistance to change. And rightly so, as pointed out by SHRM 2007 Change Management Survey Report that the top two obstacles encountered during major organizational change are communication breakdown and employee resistance. To bring about a sustainable change, it is not enough to merely eliminate this resistance. What is more important is to inspire people to look at the change in a positive manner and feel excited about the desired state. For doing this successfully, we need to address both the hard barriers to change like organizational structure, capabilities, and resources and the soft barriers like the messaging and walking the talk by senior leadership.

The role of senior leadership in managing change can not be overemphasized. Successful transformations occur when leaders mobilize and sustain energy within their organizations and communicate the objectives unambiguously. According to a new online survey conducted by The McKinsey Quarterly, those who are leading change must not only understand the drivers of a particular change but they must also communicate the vision of what the change will bring and attempt to gain commitment to the change. Without getting individual commitment from people, organizational change efforts cannot be successful.

Change management process boils down to reducing barriers to a change and generating momentum and enthusiasm. A well-designed change process anticipates stakeholders’ reaction and enables the implementation team to adjust their actions and arguments to match the same. This team needs to develop a picture of the future that is relatively easy to communicate and appeals to customers, stockholders, and employees. The standard course of action is to articulate the purpose of change. What are we trying to achieve? What difference are we trying to make? How will it improve the bottom line? How will it make our jobs easier? People want answers to these questions, and rightly so. Unfortunately, many managers and leaders stop there, and that’s why so many change efforts are met with resistance. Cognitive reasoning alone is not sufficient. According to researchers at Harvard University, getting people to change is best accomplished by including an emotional connection. When communicating change "the story must be simple, easy to identify with, emotionally resonant, and evocative of positive experiences. In a successful change effort, people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought”

Communication for change management comes in both words and deeds. Nothing undermines change more than behavior by important individuals that is inconsistent with their words. Leaders need to be a living symbol of the new culture. Clearly recognizable achievements within the first phase of a change effort helps convince doubters that the change is going to be worth all the trouble. As the organisation’s transformation progresses, a powerful way to reinforce the story is to spotlight the successes. Sharing such stories helps to crystallize the meaning of transformation and gives people confidence that it will actually work. It is therefore imperative to show employees that the new behaviors and approaches do in fact improve performance. Successful organizational change should be as much about changing the way people think and behave as about overhauling how they work. It should be as much about changing attitudes and behaviors as about changing skills or competencies.

Transformations require extraordinary energy. Employees must fundamentally rethink and reshape the business while continuing to run it on a day-to-day basis. Where does this energy come from? A powerful transformation story helps employees believe in the effort by answering their big questions, which can range from how the transformation will affect the organisation down to how it will affect them individually. Leading from the front has no substitute in change management.

HR's role as a strategic business partner is pivotal for organisational change. It is best suited to identify and coach individuals in the organisation to lead change efforts and also, identifying and recommending tools and techniques, as well as addressing barriers. HR can add value by identifying new working practices, skills gaps, and means of engagement with and amongst various stakeholders. Change can create colossal tension in the workplace. Many people will be uncomfortable with change and will exhibit uncertainty and apprehension over job security and the future. This can threaten the very success of change initiatives. It is here that HR leaders can help garner employee support for change by ensuring that communications about change are clear, two-way, consistent and regular. This involvement will result in identifying potential risks and means to mitigate the same.

HR professionals will be increasingly expected to manage change. And a new competency of ‘Catalyst of Change’ will be added to the repertoire of HR.

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Topics: Performance Management, Culture, C-Suite, #ChangeManagement

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