The Evolution Of Change Management And What This Means For the World Of Work

MovePlan’s Siobhan Byrnes shares four distinct areas that companies need to focus on when undertaking change to ensure they’re setting themselves up for success.

Evolution Of Change Management
Photo by The Jopwell Collection on Unsplash

Over the past three years, everything around us has changed, and nowhere more so than how we approach work. Thinking on their feet, most companies have had to change their traditional way of working to adapt and survive the impact of the pandemic. But now as we revert to some degree of normalcy, what is this translating into?

According to research firm Gartner, on average, organisations have undertaken five major firmwide restructures in the past three years — and nearly 75% expect to accelerate their change initiatives in the next three years. There’s clearly an appetite for relooking at how we’ve traditionally approached work; yet not all initiatives are successful. What can businesses do differently to ensure the right outcome? I believe there are four distinct areas that companies need to focus on when undertaking change to ensure they’re setting themselves up for success.

Engaging and co-creating purposefully

If we rewind 10 years, when implementing change, the emphasis was on business leaders communicating clearly and effectively to their employees. Fast-forward to today and it’s more complex. Any change within an organisation is now a more collective effort: the importance of communication has not gone away but there’s a greater need to make the communication two-way rather than top-down. Employees want to be heard rather than preached at and want to be involved with some degree of co-creation. It’s how they feel part of something much bigger while companies secure buy-in. This desire to co-create has led to engagement emerging as a key ingredient in any change process. Change specialists have an important role to play in facilitating this.

…It’s important to work with people at all levels — not just the leadership team — to find the right balance and ensure success…

When organisations undergo change, it provides opportunities for new and improved ways of working. From a change management perspective, it’s important to work with people at all levels — not just the leadership team — to find the right balance and ensure success — for both individuals as well as the company. Most people share a fear of change, which is why robust and challenging conversations are essential. Co-creating is about involving people, capturing their ideas, discussing solutions and finally, reflecting it all through actions. Real involvement from people is what will set the transformation apart.

Nudging behaviour

As companies embark on change journeys, success depends on persuading hundreds or thousands of individuals to change the way they work, a transformation people will accept only if they can be persuaded to think differently about their jobs. A core part of change management involves changing human behaviour, without this any transformation initiatives are likely to fail.

Because organisational behaviour affects organisation change, change management professionals must now ensure they understand the relationship between the two.

Creating change is never easy – or particularly fast. But subtle pointers (or nudges) in the workplace to gently influence ‘good’ behaviour can help people make better decisions, which creates positive change faster. At the same time, you need to ensure employees have a purpose to believe in, that they clearly understand the why as well as the what, and consistent role models. Leaders must demonstrate the behaviours and attitudes they are seeking to achieve to earn the trust and support of employees – ultimately resulting in the required behaviour change.

Because organisational behaviour affects organisation change, change management professionals must now ensure they understand the relationship between the two.

Maximising line managers

Successful companies focus more of their energies on engaging with line managers, who are important champions to any change programme. Line managers act as the linchpin between senior management and employees. If companies get their line managers onboard and across such programmes, explain how they can get involved and support the change, it becomes much more impactful and effective.

Employees tend to listen to their line managers before any other level of management. However, line managers will need to be armed with the right tools and trainings. Not only are they very important in advocating change but are crucial to communicating the change. This needs to be done using softer skills, focusing more on the outcome rather than the output, and requires a different skill set.

While senior management approach change from a strategic point-of-view, everyone else tends to focus on the actual impact the change will have on them and their roles. Some of this might seem unnecessary, but it’s the practical reality of change management that line managers understand so well. Getting them on side and part of the process leads to much higher levels of employee buy-in and support.

Improving company culture

Modern workplaces are changing like never before. Organisations of all sizes are at a juncture where they are assessing their operations, but more importantly — their company culture. Over the past three years, several business leaders have recognised this as a rare opportunity to hit reset.

Over the years, workplace culture has become as important as companies’ strategies or operating models. Having a healthy culture can sometimes make it easier to navigate any change programme more smoothly. But as we still grapple with what the future of work will look like, change management has evolved into a discipline that’s core to maintaining and building a healthy workplace culture.

Having a healthy culture can sometimes make it easier to navigate any change programme more smoothly.

For example, if companies want to foster a culture of collaboration, they might consider creating more spaces where people want to spend time connecting, exchanging ideas, and solving problems together. If the idea is to become ‘less hierarchical and more accessible’, they might abandon private offices but create personal spaces.

Change can be incredibly disruptive for all those involved. As change managers, our role has fundamentally evolved to one that focuses on purpose, putting people front and centre, influencing behaviour change, and helping to build a collaborative, inclusive and innovative culture. It is only with this focus that we can be a real force for good, supporting companies as they rewire how they think about work and the workplace. Because the future of work is no longer a distant proposition – it is here, now.

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