A Leader’s Guide to Change Management

by Jeff Sears
Change is all around us. No one knows this better than a leader tasked with executing a new change initiative for a company or organization. In this blog, Meld's VP for Strategic Marketing Jeff Sears shares some key steps and tips on how to embed change in your organization.

Being a leader in a company doesn’t always mean you have a C-suite title or VP before your name. Whether you are entry-level, a manager, or the person who signs the checks, any employee can be a leader. This is especially true when talking about change. Anyone can help to lead and guide change for an organization.

You might be incorporating a small change, like a kitchen duty rotation for the break room, or one that’s much larger, like a leadership change as the result of a retirement or merger. You might be rebranding or renaming your company, or maybe you’ve asked staff to start tracking time in a new platform. No matter the focus of the change, there is an easy process you can follow to improve your likelihood of success.

Companies and organizations big and small have two things in common: They are encountering change regularly and there is always room to improve how they implement those changes. When I present workshops on change management, there is always an “aha” moment in the room or a tactic the organization hasn’t tried before. Managers will say aloud, “Oh…so THAT was what we didn’t do.”

In John Kotter’s book, Leading Change he describes eight steps that every company or organization should follow when initiating change. Kotter’s model is relatively simple and logical. Following these eight steps can make this process digestible. It establishes a road map for embedding your change initiative into day-to-day operations.

Below is my personal interpretation and high-level summary of the eight steps. 

1. Create a Sense of Urgency

This is where you help people understand the importance of making the change. Share what will happen if you make the change (ideal future state) and what will happen if you don’t. Use industry data or case studies to show the potential impact of the change.

TIP: 75% of your management and leadership teams need to embrace the change publicly and have buy-in for the change to succeed.

2. Form a Powerful Coalition

During this step, gather cross-functional stakeholders to help drive the initiative forward. Find people who feel the same pains and see the importance of the change. Consider people who you will need to execute the change and those who will be affected by the change.

TIP: Include team members of all levels, not just leadership and managers. 

3. Create a Vision for Change

A clear vision can help people easily understand and remember why the change is important. When people understand the why and the value the change can bring, they are more likely to support it. The vision needs to be simple enough that the coalition can share the same consistent vision (ideally no more than one or two sentences). Leadership can create the first draft, but then the coalition should provide feedback.

TIP: If your change will impact external parties (customers, vendor partners, etc), it is important to build a second version of your vision that is externally focused as well.

4. Communicate the Vision

Share your vision with your team members, partners, or customers (if it will impact them). The message needs to be heard and understood. It should also cut through the noise of other communications (emails, meetings, flyers, etc.). Leaders and coalition members must ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to the change.

TIP: This can’t be a one-time message or a special meeting. The change should be discussed frequently with updates provided on a regular basis. If the messaging approaches you are trying aren’t getting the word out appropriately, then try new approaches.

5. Remove Obstacles and Barriers

There are many things that can prevent a change initiative from being successful. One of those is lack of foresight. It’s important to think about all the potential obstacles to change and address them. You want to make it as easy as possible to execute the change. People will feel empowered to do their part if they know you understand and have taken care of potential barriers.

TIP: Have a member of management or leadership serve as a champion for the change initiative. This person can receive concerns or challenge and help mitigate them quickly.

6. Create Short-Term Wins

I like to call it ‘Create and Celebrate Short-Term Wins.’ Set small measurements that can help you tell if you’re moving the needle. If you set lofty and unachievable goals (100 percent participation or 100 percent incorporation), you are setting yourself up to fail. Those naysayers who said it wouldn’t work will be happy to say they were right. Short-term wins need to be reasonable and reachable. These wins are a great way to reinforce the change and generate results.

TIP: I encourage people to recognize staff who “get it” and are doing their part to contribute to the goal. Share these success stories with the larger team to help them see the value in the change.

7. Build on the Change

There may be new things you can do now that you couldn’t do before the change. Or perhaps you’ve identified a better way to execute a process based on the change. Continue to build on the change and improve it. Identify what is going well and what isn’t. Seek feedback on pain points and obstacles and work to address them. But be careful: too many adjustments in the early stages of the change may cause confusion.

TIP: Consider enhancements to the change once you know it has positive momentum. See how you can constantly improve it. (think “Lean Six Sigma”)

8. Anchor the Change in Corporate Culture

At this point, the change should be a company expectation and part of daily work. Is the change part of day-to-day operations, or are people going through the motions only because of the change initiative? Make sure leadership continues to support the change and talk about the impact it has made. If someone new starts, the “new way” should just be “the way.”

TIP: For consistency, incorporate the change into your job descriptions, onboarding, training programs, etc. Make sure the change appears as part of the company infrastructure. 

Conclusion

So, as you consider how to tackle that next change, consider this: Change takes time. Change also takes planning, preparation, consistency, and involving the right people. By following these eight steps, you’ll be better positioned for your change to succeed.

If you’ve found this blog interested, I encourage you to check out Kotter’s book. It includes a variety of supporting anecdotes and case studies to help illustrate these points.

Do you have a large change initiative coming in the next six months to a year? Reach out and let’s talk about your upcoming efforts, especially if you think you might need some additional guidance or coaching along the way. Meld can help facilitate the change process with you and serve as an unbiased third-party to share benchmarks, industry data, or other insights. 

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