organizational change management

Approaching Organizational Change Through the Right Lens

By: Mehrdad Rad

Think back to the last time you bought a car. You knew you needed a set of wheels, and you probably knew a few non-negotiable features you wanted to have included in your next vehicle. What you might not have realized were the specifics. Those specifics were what you relied on the sales team to show you, so you could get the best next vehicle for your needs.

Organizational changes are similar to changing a vehicle. Your team might know that a new set of wheels is coming their way, but they will need you, the manager or team leader, to act as the sales person who will help them see what’s available and why one vehicle is better than another available option. 

The way you go about having these sales conversations is crucial to the success of their adoption. As a leader, it’s your job and responsibility to sell the change to everyone who will be impacted by the adjustments. I’ve been on projects where managers don’t prioritize selling the change. Even though the change could be technically amazing, the team knew nothing about why or what the updates did, so gaining adoption was harder than it needed to be. Transferring this knowledge down to the key players, and eventually, the people who will be feeling the updates in their day-to-day work isn’t just a good idea — it’s crucial. Here are my recommendations for how to make these changes as seamless as possible.

Start by Having the Change Conversation

The first step to any successful change management process is to have a conversation with those impacted. This conversation can’t happen in a silo, either. It must be done with as many people as you can to make sure that the knowledge is transferred from those who are leading the change to those who will be impacted by the change.

When starting the conversation, it’s important to communicate three core aspects of the project:

  • Why the change is happening
  • What actions will take place to ensure the change is a success 
  • How the change will make the team’s world better

These conversations have to be just that — a conversation. It can’t be a one-sided venture. Each of the key players must also be able to offer input to smooth and simplify the change as much as possible. Once the purpose, process, and desired outcomes have been shared, it’s a good idea to open the floor to comments by asking the following questions. 

  • Is this the change you were hoping to see?
  • How will this change impact your role?
  • Is there anything we can do to make your life easier during this process?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to see changed?

Listening to those answers will help your team feel more vested in the process, and help you get clarity around where you need to focus as the changes are implemented.

Equip Your Managers to Inform Their Teams 

In the past, I’ve worked with managers who have been very competent. They knew the technology. They understood the changes. What they didn’t understand was the importance of communicating those changes to their teams below them. Instead, they focused exclusively on making sure they had the budget, met deadlines, and got the changes done. As a result, their team experienced change fatigue, stunting them from moving forward on more projects. With too much change and not enough of a feedback loop, the results were lackluster at best. 

For change management to be a success, you must have that trickle-down approach. After you’ve kickstarted the change process with your management team, it’s important to also train them on how to disperse this information to their employees.

Putting together a PDF for your managers to send out is okay, but it’s not enough to empower the team to rally behind the change. Even emails with specific points don’t get read, so you cannot assume a bulky PDF outlining the change will be consumed either. It’s your job to help your managers get the critical information consumed, and then open that door to more conversation. By consistently checking in with the teams who are impacted by the changes, you can avoid pitfalls and keep your project moving forward on time and on budget.

If You Want to Change Something, Lead It

Too often, leaders underestimate the difficulty of getting people out of their comfort zones. As a result, they become paralyzed by the risks because they never understood what was waiting for them on the other side. 

As a leader, it’s your role to get organizational buy-in at every level by talking to those who are impacted. Comparing the results of what happens in each scenario will help you clearly communicate the value of embracing the change. Ask questions throughout the implementation process. Listen to those answers. Then, lead the change rather than force it. If you stay focused on how each update, change, or new action contributes to the vision and mission of the organization, you’ll be better equipped to maintain a strong buy-in from your team from start to finish.