Change management needs to change

The term “change management” is now mostly associated with dreary corporate directives that don’t really serve or connect with employees. There’s a reason for that – and a way to fix it.

By Maya Finkelstein

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, over time, change is inevitable for any business that wishes to stay afloat. But just as it is necessary, change is also usually met with fear and resistance, at every level.

While some companies once had the luxury of postponing change and sticking to old traditions, as the New Normal continues to establish itself, it is becoming clear that change is inevitable and necessary for even the oldest-running and most well-established organizations out there.

Of course, this was true of the “Old Normal” as well – but with the new reality brought on by the Digital Transformation, the pandemic, and shifting markets, the rate of change around us has accelerated to an unprecedented degree. So, while in previous years it was possible to “manage” change in singular, focused events – bulk reskilling efforts, bi-yearly seminars and other “traditional” Change Management endeavors – today, change is no longer an “every-once-in-a-while” thing.

Rather, change is a persistent force that is an integral and ongoing part of employees’ routines. For this reason, traditional Change Management practices feel increasingly outdated and irrelevant; there is no single “change” that needs to be addressed and “solved.” Efforts to do so only serve to demonstrate how upper management is alienated and distant from the reality employees face every day.

It’s not surprising, then, that when “younger” companies hear the term “Change Management,” they respond with an eye roll. Just talking about change enablement can often feel like an indication of an outdated mentality.

But change enablement practices don’t have to be outdated and irrelevant; in fact, when done right, they can actually grant companies a significant competitive edge. By providing the right tools, change management can help companies prepare not just for the implementation of a new platform or a specific organizational restructuring effort, but for the future at large. How? It’s all about creating a change-ready attitude and culture.

Change isn’t Sad

Believe it or not, but historically, change management practices were an offshoot of the grief counselling profession. That’s because back in the 1960s, when Change Enablement was first conceived of, disruptions to employees’ routines were few and far-enough apart that every change could be seen as an end of something familiar which needed to be mourned. But in a constantly changing environment, this kind of approach is simply untenable; it would mean that employees are in a constant, unending state of grief, without the ability to process or integrate it in a healthy way. Not to mention that at the rate change now occurs, the life cycle of a new tool or a work environment can often be so short that it’s over before it manages to become fully familiar, thereby negating the emotional need to mourn it in the first place!

To make change enablement practices relevant in the 21st century, companies need to stop thinking of change as something that’s imposed from above which bereaves the workforce of valuable stability. Instead, we need to start seeing change as an opportunity to be leveraged – not just by management, but by employees as well.

Rather than a disruption, change can be seen as a constructive force, which can be harnessed to motivate, engage and move forward. And change management practices need to change to reflect that.

Rethinking Change Management

The fact that even change management needs to change is a perfect example of the fluidity of the times we live in. But while it’s clear that old practices are becoming less relevant, the answer to the question of what new practices we ought to adopt is more elusive.

Rather than taking employees through a grief-counselling treatment, change management today should strive to bring to the forefront the value the proposed change will bring to employees. And the responsibility for this change in perspective doesn’t lie solely with management.

The smart, tailor-made tools and platforms enterprises adopt and implement today are, by their very nature, disruptive. If a new platform doesn’t change anything, is there really a point in deploying it in the first place?

But even if a tool has the potential to revolutionize a company and transform it from end to end for the better, if it isn’t adopted quickly and efficiently it can become obsolete before it carries out its purpose. This means that new tools and platforms should take change management into account in their design, user experience and support – ensuring adoption is as quick and easy as possible.

A product that doesn’t allow for immediate deployment, doesn’t provide immediate value to end-users within the very first minutes of use, and which doesn’t back the user experience up with real-time support, is a product that, no matter how good, doesn’t assist the change management process. Without streamlined, user-friendly interfaces, workflows and support, the risk of stirring up resistance to the change it’s meant to bring about is significantly increased – and the more resistance one change meets, the more difficult it will be to implement other changes in the future.

This means that developers and service providers are an integral part of the change management process – and should see themselves as partners in it. If they don’t, the chance that the changes they hope to make will actually hold is significantly reduced.


Finding the Right Partners

Since change is now an inseparable part of any new process, it’s important to partner with people that understand this, and who create products that consider change enablement, adoption and ongoing support a part of their core offering. Without these, the chances of the change they wish to promote succeeding are greatly reduced, no matter how many workshops and seminars a company hosts.

Change and fluidity are an integral part of the New Normal – and new tools need to reflect that.

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