7 Tips to Focus On The People Side Of Change

Change is hard. Some of you may be saying “duh!” Yet many people underestimate how challenging change can be. Anyone who tells themselves change is easy has never lived through it or is choosing to pull the wool over their eyes.

Change deals with transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state – the unknown. The unknown makes most people a bit anxious. If your organization is going through a change or the unknown, then reducing the anxieties and resistance of your people matters to success.

This is normal – though not an easy process for people to go through. Change itself is a process – managing it, leading it, achieving it is a process. It’s important to go into a change effort with realistic expectations – change can be hard for people both professionally and personally – so the sooner you begin to plan for and manage this, the more likely your efforts will be a success.

Here are 7 tips to help you focus on the people side of change:

1. The best laid plans

Of course a strong change management plan is needed – but a plan is just shelfware without any action. Action is imperative. A good change management plan must account for governance, communications, training, and ongoing support. The plan needs to be realistic, actionable, and customizable. The plan also needs to be implemented by those skilled in change management in collaboration with trusted stakeholders throughout the organization. Most importantly the plan, like those leaders and stakeholders executing the plan, must remain agile and flexible. Course correction is often needed – remaining flexible during change is a key to successful change management and achieving your goals. “You can have a plan, but you have to be flexible.

2. Leader does not equal change agent

Just because you’re in a leadership role doesn’t make you a good change agent. Sorry Mr. and Ms. Executive, it may be your budget, it may even be your idea, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got the time or the skills to lead – or micromanage – the change effort. Yes, leadership needs to be involved – trusted leadership, leadership with the immense time to commit to success, leadership open to learning additional skills, leadership who can check ego, and leadership who can show compassion and patience. Title and position alone shouldn’t guarantee a seat at the change management table.

3. Resistance will happen

Most people are inherently change averse. Even those of us who don’t fear change, or are paid to lead it, don’t always like change. Resistance is natural. If you really want your change to be a success, then you must find a way to engage the resisters and harness their energy in a positive way. You can’t expect resistance not to happen and you can’t ignore it when it does. The concerns of these people, or small groups, must be addressed before others start to follow. And yes, if all else fails, sometimes this may mean removing people from the project or even the organization.

4. Get in the trenches

Change is dirty, it’s messy, and the road can be bumpy. Embrace the muck. Prepare for time in the Neutral Zone. Roll up your sleeves. You’ll hit roadblocks, you’ll hit hurdles…ram through them and jump over them. Perseverance and persistence are imperative to success. Like Michael Jordan said:

“If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

5. You are what you do

Leaders and change agents must embody the values and changes they want employee and stakeholder groups to adopt. Being a leader doesn’t exempt you from having to deal with the change yourself – personally and professionally. It’s necessary that leadership serves as role models. Mean what you say and do what you mean. They are watching!  To be a role model, embrace change, exemplify the best of what the change is all about, lead by example.

6. If at first you don’t succeed

Most people don’t like to hear this – but it’s the truth –change may not stick the first time. Yes, I know, you spent all that time and effort and money. But don’t be afraid to adapt or tweak your process, your framework, or the players involved. Every organization is different, every culture is different, and change management frameworks should be flexible and adapted to best suit the organization and type of change. Never give up the first time around. If things don’t go as planned, discuss and analyze, take a hard look at what went wrong and how. Don’t toss things aside and just move on. Develop lessons learned and saddle up and keep on riding the change journey. Remember,

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7. Change takes time

Some change can happen faster than others – but almost no change can be immediate. If you find a magic wand to wave to make that happen please let me know.   However, change overall, particularly deep culture change or transformational change, can’t happen overnight. You need to set realistic expectations regarding the timing of completion and realistic expectations regarding milestones and measurements of success. And whatever you do – don’t give up midway through the process!

Many organizations overlook or under devote resources to the people side of a change effort. It’s sad! It has repercussions and negative impacts. It’s also unnecessary. Don’t be that organization that fails to devote time and resources to the people side of change. Your people are your most valuable and expensive asset. Stop wasting time, money and effort. Ensure your project is a success. Focus on the people – and not just during times of change – but all the time.

This was originally published on the Tolero Think Tank blog.

Scott Span

Scott Span, MSOD, is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions, an Organization Improvement & Strategy firm. He helps clients in achieving success through people, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable -- organizations where people enjoy working and customers enjoy doing business.