Implementing a People-First Approach to Change Management

Michelle Beganskas of TMA outlines the importance of change management strategies for organizations looking to smoothly transition to success in a new environment.

Change management efforts were implemented to support team members in Mazars USA’s modernized office.

As the pandemic made clear, our lives are constantly in flux, subject to a variety of factors outside of our control. Day to day, week to week, both our professional and personal lives face life’s biggest constant: change. On a personal level, we learn to cope with the stressors and anxieties that often result from change. In the workplace, change management programs can provide much needed support for team members in preparation for any degree of change, whether major or minor.

Moving to an agile workplace model required a clear vision from leadership as well as communication and transparency throughout the change management process.

Starting to Create an Effective Strategy

Workplace designers and strategists are tasked with designing intuitive workplace settings that meet the needs of their clients. On the front-end, this involves programming and implementing specific design choices within the built environment to create efficient and comfortable spaces conducive to the organization’s work style and culture. What many people don’t realize is the role that workplace strategists play on the back-end, prepping teams and facilitating the transition to new or updated spaces by utilizing change management strategies. But what goes into determining these strategies, and how can organizations ensure that they’re effective?

The first step in framing a potential change management initiative involves conducting a comprehensive assessment of an organization’s current state. This primarily involves meeting with key project stakeholders to discuss impending changes, which allows for the identification of potential opportunities and challenges that might arise during the process. Based on this assessment, the team can begin to gauge the degree to which the change management program will be needed, and the tactics best suited for the organization. When implementing an effective strategy, it’s important to communicate all aspects of the changes clearly, and even engage with staff and leadership as needed to develop skills and behaviors that will allow them to successfully transition to a new or unfamiliar environment.

New space types such as casual and agile gathering spaces were introduced to staff prior to move-in.

Proper Communication & Metrics for Success

Setting yourself up for success early can help to alleviate some of the pains that are naturally associated with any substantial transition. The most important part of implementing an effective strategy long-term is to plan ahead. A best practice is to utilize a master schedule, sequencing all communications and staff engagements around specific, predetermined project milestones. Without a schedule that takes into account the status of the project or the date of new move-in, the project team risks over-communicating with stakeholders in a short period of time, potentially overwhelming and eventually alienating the team members the program is intended to help. Working closely with the client’s HR and IT departments, office services, and administrative teams can help to alleviate issues related to communication, and their perspectives can often provide key insights into staff opinions and concerns related to the change.

Smart technology systems monitor employee usage of space, allowing the change management team to solve transitional issues as they arise, while also helping staff to plan ahead for booking new desks and collaboration rooms.

Broadly, any change management initiative is only as effective as employee buy-in allows. To ensure that efforts do not fall flat, it’s crucial to utilize a number of different methods of communication during the process itself. Company-wide town hall presentations or design reveal meetings with leadership present are great for providing broad overviews of proposed or upcoming changes. Simple tools like email newsletters and workshops that open up dialogue between staff members and leadership are effective means of communicating small bits of information at an appropriate pace. Reference materials like staff guidebooks provide a useful consolidated document for team members to reference when questions arise, and often remain in an editable format that allows them to evolve overtime.

As a change management initiative comes to fruition, it’s also essential to determine metrics to measure success during and immediately after implementation. Online questionnaires can be used as pulse check surveys, allowing the change management team to gauge staff understanding of a change that is occurring, as well as their acceptance levels, ultimately providing insight into the effectiveness of the process. With this information, the team can adjust the plan and future messaging as needed to better support staff.

A series of impact surveys and assessments are circulated to gauge team members opinions, feelings and comments following a major change.

Ensuring Long-Lasting Effects

With a plan for change management in place, and metrics to gauge its success, it’s critical to take steps to ensure that the benefits afforded by the effort last over an extended period of time. It is important for leaders and people managers to understand the new workplace vision, lead by example, and continue to communicate expectations clearly to their teams. Once staff has settled into the new space, distributing a post-occupancy survey or hosting focus groups provides valuable feedback and allows a more comprehensive review of the effort outcomes. Based on this information, the leading team can further adjust the plan to sustain the change management process over a long period of time.

Having this formalized process increases the likelihood of a successful outcome for an organization following a transition. Other simple pieces of communication can help to sustain the initiative after the fact, including printed cards or informational table tents in various new spaces. These assets provide end-users with clear information on the spaces and their intended use, and can include directions on how to connect to integrated technology or who to call if they need assistance. Having all of the necessary information in one place at key intervals provides solutions and gentle reminders for staff and is an easy way to ensure that change management strategies remain effective in the long-term.

As a whole, introducing and maintaining an effective change management strategy can be a very time-intensive process, but the benefits it offers for any level of transition in the workplace make it well worth the effort. Establishing clear goals and objectives with a client empowers the change management team to justify certain changes with staff, and maintaining clear communication throughout the process ensures that the program receives the necessary buy-in to remain successful moving forward. As the workplace continues to evolve, it will become increasingly important for organizations to recognize the need for and embrace change management initiatives. Ultimately, the job of a workplace designer or strategist goes beyond preparing the new workplace for staff, and can also include preparing the staff for the new workplace. Whether facing large or small changes, a proper change management strategy is a must for organizations looking to smoothly transition to success in a new environment.

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