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How The Best Managers Lead Through Change

(5-7 minute read)

Change is constant and inevitable. From the moment of birth to our eventual passage, we experience change in boundless forms, but along the way we encounter challenges.

In the workplace this persistent fluctuation is experienced every day—especially by leaders, who are tasked with the role of managing change. To successfully guide their organization through each transition, leaders must understand the fundamentals of change management.

Aspects of Change Management

Over the years industry experts have pinpointed various aspects of change management.

The Society for Human Resource Management regards change management as a systematic process that involves “defining and adopting corporate strategies, structures, procedures, and technologies” in order to deal with change derived from internal and external circumstances.

Lambeth Change Management Team asserts that change management is a major part of any project that allows people to embrace “new processes, technologies, systems, structures, and values.” These activities help individuals transition from their current working model to the desired way of working.

Lisa M. Kudray and Brian H. Kleiner wrote in the Industrial Management magazine that change management is a competitive tactic, which entails “the continuous process of aligning the organization with its marketplace” in a way that outperforms the competition.

Roadblocks to Change

Since the 1970s and to this day, most studies show a 60- to 70-percent failure rate for organizational change management efforts. According to Ryerson University, the most common reasons change initiatives fail are:

  1. Employee resistance
  2. Communication breakdown
  3. Inadequate time devoted to training
  4. Staff turnover during transition
  5. Costs exceeded budget

People tend to stick with what they know, so it’s safe to say that employee resistance to change is normal. When employees are asked to change their way of thinking or behavior, their brain undergoes a neurological change. The American Red Cross explained how this alteration works:

Basically, after change is introduced, the prefrontal cortex receives the information via the five senses. Then, the prefrontal cortex compares the new condition to the existing condition, producing an error signal that is received by the amygdala (in the brain), which causes the emotion fear. Upon receiving the fear signal, the prefrontal cortex initiates a response. So, at the root of employee resistance to change is fear.

In terms of communication breakdown, leaders are at the forefront. In a study published by Forbes magazine, over 30,000 employees were asked a series of questions—among them was whether their organization openly shared challenges with them. The results showed that only 35 percent of leaders are “always or frequently sharing challenges,” which means that approximately two-thirds of those leaders are contributing to the breakdown in communication that occurs during change management efforts.

What’s interesting about the five reasons stated above is that they each lead to their own version of change, which is disruptive by nature. For example, not providing employees with adequate training during the transition may cause them to quit. And when projects go over budget, it may cause unscheduled changes that throw the venture off course. Therefore, leaders should make every effort to mitigate these roadblocks.

Managing Change

For a change initiative to succeed, employees must accept the changes willingly and consistently. While it may take time to get employees fully on board, leaders can break the ice by addressing employees’ concerns by building trust, which is established through credibility.

You develop credibility by doing what you say you will do, finding out what employees want, and being transparent in communications with employees and stakeholders. Transparency is important because it lets you properly inform employees of the change, including why it’s needed, and helps prevent breakdowns in communication.

The issue of training can be resolved by ensuring employees have all the tools they need to get through the change. Note that this change does not have to be from a project-management standpoint. It may also pertain to the employee’s own growth and development within the organization.

Multiple studies show that employees actually want more training, and many employees feel as though they aren’t reaching their potential at work. Leaders can reduce the risk of employees leaving for greener pastures—or becoming unproductive due to lack of confidence in their role—by involving them in the change initiative, asking for their feedback, providing them with educational resources, and coaching and mentoring them. Leaders, as well, should obtain training so they are better qualified to implement and support change initiatives.

Lastly, to ensure an effort is worth undertaking, leaders should perform a cost-benefit analysis, which involves identifying potential costs and anticipated benefits. Costs may include resources needed (including people) and training time for each person involved. There should be clear advantages to the change along with a list of potential obstacles and a plan for contending with those hurdles.




January 10, 2019




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