The 8 Tenets of Successful Change Management

By: Jennifer Ayres, Founding Partner

If there’s one thing the coronavirus pandemic has emphasized, it’s that change is inevitable, both personally and professionally. In the past year alone, every business has pivoted, putting together change management strategies overnight. Some companies found success in their change management models, flourishing now more than ever. Others have not been so lucky. 

With the Delta variant sweeping across the country and mask rules reinstated, change appears to be coming yet again. Therefore, your company’s change management strategy may once again become vital. The right change management may allow your business to not just survive but thrive, even after COVID. 

The 8 Tenets of Successful Change Management

The Survive and Thrive podcast focuses on just that — not just surviving, but thriving thanks to proven change management strategies. In the first season, our podcast tracked 19 stories and perspectives on how COVID-19 created an imperative for change and what leaders and organizations did to respond. In the second season, the podcast solidified the common practices that helped organizations navigate any change—i.e. their change management models. In aggregating those techniques, below are the 8 tenets of a successful change management strategy. 

1) Build the Case for Change

The first step in successful change management is by building a case for that change. This means outlining why the change is necessary. In defining the “why,” you help bring a sense of purpose and meaning to the actions you will be implementing to make that change happen. 

In the time of Covid, your “why” can simply be maintaining a safe working environment. For other changes, that “why” may be tied more closely to your mission statement. Perhaps the reason why you are making this change is to better practice a core value. Maybe it is to improve the work environment or smooth out the processes. 

Whatever the case, the bottom line is that you need one. A case for change shows your people why they should care about this change. You can’t complete the rest of your change management strategy if your people don’t care about changing in the first place. So, to successfully change, you must prove why that change is needed, why it matters to your people, and how it relates to the company. 

To hear more about this tenet, listen to “Change Management: Building The Case For Change” with Lisa Insley. 

2) Engage Your Audience 

To successfully rally people around change in the workplace, you must remember to think of your people. If you want your team on board with your decisions, you need to think of how those decisions will influence them in your current change management strategy. 

For this, you will need to harness your empathy. Empathy is only becoming more imperative in the workplace. When Glassdoor published its 2020 Best Places to Work – some of the common themes surrounding the companies that landed on the list related to empathy for employee needs. The exercise and execution of empathy have become essential to surviving these tumultuous times, and an imperative factor in a successful change management model. 

This goes beyond just your immediate people. To engage your audience, you must have empathy for everyone who is impacted and make a concerted effort to understand how they are impacted. Guest Jeff Bone covers this topic nicely in “The Importance Of Knowing Your Audience When Enacting Change.”

3) Craft Meaningful Messaging 

Once you understand how people will be affected by the change, you can begin to craft meaningful messaging. Even if the modifications you are introducing are beneficial, the way in which you introduce them greatly influences how people respond to those modifications. For example, a curt email with little details is not a sufficient way to deliver huge organizational changes. Employees need to not only feel understood but also prepared for the changes to come. 

So, how you communicate your change management strategy can be the difference in its proper execution. When putting together your messaging, there are a few key themes to consider such as:

  1. Why are we doing this?
  2. What do we know about how this impacts the organization?
  3. When will big changes happen?
  4. What we know. What we don’t know.
  5. What are the benefits and where do we anticipate bumps. 

It’s important to understand how employees of all statuses will receive the news, as well as investors, boards, or even your local community. Whatever the audience, each has its own context and from that context, their own concerns to the change.  

So, to ensure the right level of communications, develop key messages that display empathy and identify appropriate delivery vehicles when sharing your change management to specific audiences. Listen to Lisa Insley explain how important messaging is in “Messaging Matters: The Impact Of Great Business Messaging On Change.”

4) Surface the Impacts or ‘Brace for the Impact’ 

The next tenet of successful change management is surfacing the impacts or what I sometimes call ‘bracing for the impact.’ This step involves identifying impacts (positive or negative) that you need to address to minimize disruption. Even positive impacts can cause disruption, therefore, it’s imperative to be able to answer questions that come your way.

When your people receive the news of change, they will want to know what is going to happen, how, and when. As the leader or organizational head, you must understand and respond well to these concerns. To hear more about this, listen to “Bracing For Impact: The Importance Of Thinking About Change Impact” with Samantha Collins.

A great way to plan for this is by documenting your potential impacts. Even as simple as using an excel spreadsheet, you can write down the impacts and how you plan to mitigate them. This step isn’t particularly difficult to complete—it just takes time and energy. It will be especially important to know when answering questions from your employees about your change management strategy. 

Not everybody will like the change. In fact, most people don’t like change as – like previously stated – it causes disruption. So, while it’s important to stay true to your vision and the ultimate goal of change, it’s also imperative to keep an open mind and open ears. Sometimes, your employees will point out specific concerns or impacts you did not account for. In other words, they may highlight problems you originally overlooked. You can then incorporate steps to tackle those issues when they come your way. 

5) Chart the Course – Building and Working the Plan

The fifth tenet is about charting the course or building and working on your change management plan. Just as you must keep an open mind when bracing for impact, so must you when creating your plan. In other words, it’s just as important to flex, pivot, and replan when unforeseen circumstances take you in another direction.

When putting together a plan, you also foster collaboration across the organization. To build a comprehensive change management model, you must bring in leaders from different parts of the business. In doing so, you’ll get a clearer picture of the company itself: are all the moving parts working well? Are they working together? 

Additionally, this collaboration will help you create a more holistic change management strategy. You will also start to fully understand how the changes will impact different employee groups, vendors, customers, etc. In bringing in people from all departments, you will be able to save your plan from having any major blind spots. Guest Kristel Kurtz offers her incredible insight in “Using Change Plans To Chart The Course.”

While a plan helps guide the company, remember that ultimately, that plan is a working document, no matter how comprehensive. At the end of the day, flexible companies can survive change. Why not incorporate flexibility into your change management model? It’s just as important to pivot your course as it is to follow one.  

6) Define Success Metrics

The next step in successful change management is defining your success metrics. You must find some metric of tracking your process, otherwise how will you know if your plan is working? If you can find a way to gather trackable feedback, you can then see if you need to pivot your plan. Jigar Shah discusses the importance of metrics in “Using Readiness Metrics To Gauge Progress And Find Problems.”

Your metrics can be very specific and advanced, or they can be short pulse surveys to get a sense of people’s understanding of the progress. At the end of the day, anything is better than nothing, especially when it comes to change management. 

Establishing measurements can not only give you useful information about where your workforce is in the journey, but it can help you communicate progress to people. If you clue your employees in on the process, they will become more invested in it. When they are more invested, they are more likely to help make that change happen. It becomes a positive cycle of progress. 

Metrics also help business leaders make better snap decisions. Sometimes, as leaders, you must make decisions immediately. With metrics that support your objective, you have a better understanding of what works and what does not. This allows you to make those tough decisions with greater confidence. Even if you don’t reach your North Star, you’re still charting in the right direction. Sometimes surviving rough seas is the most important part of change management—it keeps you afloat until waters are once again calm. 

7) Develop Resiliency 

The seventh tenet for successful change management is developing resiliency. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is the resiliency of human nature. On both a professional and personal level, many people had to dig deep and find their strength over the past eighteen months. 

For this tenet, developing resiliency explores how to create an organization adapted for change. Sometimes this can look like establishing a function that better positions an organization to respond rapidly to planned and unplanned changes. Companies with advanced change management models will have this aspect of resiliency built into their model.  

This function can take place in a Business Transformation Office, an M&A Function, a Continuous Improvement Office, or as a stand-alone function such as a Change Management Office. Wherever this flexibility function resides, it needs to do so in a place where it has visibility and influence across the organization. With the right sponsorship and level of influence, you can more easily standardize new processes, which gives you great leverage as an organization, and greater change management. Hear Kelli Skaff’s expert opinions on the matter in “Making It Stick: Creating An Organization Ready For Change.”

Having a change capability in your organization can also help to ensure proper communication during times of growth or crisis. When there is a lack of communication from the organization, people will make up their own narratives which can create more turbulence and chaos. By following a change management strategy that incorporates a change function, the company can better provide stability among uncertainty for people. In already turbulent times, proper communication will make your team’s work easier and your life as a leader much better. After all, there is no such thing as over-communicating in business. 

8) Recognition and Reward

The last tenet of successful change management is recognition and reward. This tenet can sometimes be overlooked, even though it may be one of the most important ones for change management. This topic focuses on recognizing what people are feeling through change, rewarding them for behaviors that are in alignment with the change you want to see, and maintaining the recognition and rewards. Steve Van Valin helped us dive deeper into this teneton the episode, “Recognize, Reward, Repeat: Motivating Through Recognition.”

At the end of the day, people want to feel appreciated. They don’t need to be showered in gifts or pampered. They just want to feel like their hard work or extra efforts are being noticed and that they, as an awesome employee, are seen. One of the simplest ways that costs nothing is a genuine thank you. So many leaders don’t even do that – and it can cause dissatisfaction, or perhaps even resignation amongst the team. 

If you make an effort to show your team you value them, you can help motivate them as employees. By recognizing and rewarding your people, you will nurture and encourage the behaviors you want to see in an organization and help sustain your change management model. Overall, every work environment can benefit from incorporating gratitude. As a leader, the culture begins with you, so you must ask yourself during times or normalcy and times of change: what culture do I want to foster?