Holler if this scenario sounds familiar! You are the HR Manager of the organisation; growth is becoming the biggest challenge, it is tough to understand the market and visualise what it takes to move the needle. The business teams have explored a few things, but after a mini jump, the sales trends fall back to a familiar and unexciting line. The investors are waiting and the pressure is mounting. Extensive brainstorming and market research is pursued, and ah-ha, you finally witness a significant breakthrough! Everyone involved in the decision making is convinced, and, you go all guns blazing to make this change transpire fast.
Institutional changes in terms of technology, processes and systems are required to bring this paradigm shift. The Management acknowledges that the entire organisation needs to alter the way things are done for such a change to be successful, so no one is leaving any stone unturned. The CEO has held management meetings to percolate the strategy, the plan, and the way forward. To gain commitment, HR ensured that all the line managers underwent training and also conducted brown bag sessions for employees to understand the plan and alleviate any doubts. You have put posters and slogans throughout the office to build enthusiasm and excitement.
Success was eagerly anticipated … but it did not materialize! Barring a few pockets of change and excited discussions in meetings, business on the ground went on as usual. Slowly, the discussions too abated. Murmurs behind the back were galore - “This was bound to happen. If this was such a great plan, how is it that not even a single team implemented it in entirety? This is not what is required to succeed. What’s so wrong with the way things are right now? Something needs to change but not this way!” Who would bell the cat on why the change did not succeed?
Today, most organisations accept that they need to strategize and manage change for its successful implementation. And, over the years, numerous ready-to-use change management models have been brought into force, but with limited success. However, the secret sauce that would guarantee success still remains elusive. So, why is the resistance to change so colossal and what is the fool proof plan to tackle it? What are the signs that a “change” is heading towards failure?
Making change a success
Human Resource teams in organisations are well equipped to know the real scenario about the change. We can anticipate whether the change is going to succeed, or like many other initiatives, simply fizzle out. We know who is really excited and who is feigning enthusiasm. We know for whom success truly matters, and who the die‑hard company loyalists are. We are close to the change, yet far enough to read all the signs, so we can well be the change champions that the organisation is looking for! Here are a few steps to help you pilot the change in the right direction.
Ensure the right foundation: An Executive sponsor and the patronage of the top management are crucial for any change initiative. These will ensure that the process of change is assured of support to the finish, and any resistance that gets percolated to the top is quashed. A few pertinent messages in prominent and influential forums will ensure that no one can afford to ignore the change. Is the intent strong and the core team 100% committed? The path to change is challenging, and you simply cannot afford to build a structure on crumbling pillars.
Co-create the change plan: Every change needs a robust plan that includes all the elements of change – Vision, Communication, Support Systems, Motivation and Action Plan. Even if one of the elements is missing, the change is heading towards failure for sure.
- Vision: Answers the “why” and defines the new destination
- Communication: Constantly validates and clarifies the path
- Support Systems: Provide the skills, tools, and linkage to other systems
- Motivation: Incentivizes every individual to make the change. Could be a positive or negative motivator
Action Plan: Details a step-by-step process required to complete the journey
Identify and recognize change champions: All change initiatives will need some change champions – people who see change as an “opportunity” to grow professionally will be more than willing to invest in the project’s success. Ensure that they are respected amongst their peers and are open to newer ideas. Identification of the correct change champions is critical for the project, so sift through those presenting mere lip service. Recognize and reward efforts of those who succeed early and market them internally. Celebrate progress without waiting for perfection.
In Quotes “All change initiatives will need some change champions – people who see change as an “opportunity” to grow professionally will be more than willing to invest in the project’s success. Ensure that they are respected amongst their peers and are open to newer ideas.”
Anticipate resistance to change: Resistance is as natural as change itself. Recognizing and dealing with it requires patience and not anger. Commitment does not come instantly, and it is pertinent to let it grow gradually. The important question to answer is WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?). If you are able to answer that and address concerns (regarding end result/ the journey/ any losses/ support required), you will be able to convert most of your stakeholders. Some people are bound to lose during the process of change, and, it is only prudent to acknowledge and compensate them to the maximum possible extent. However, do not expect 100% commitment and be prepared to sacrifice some naysayers.
The Early Signs of Failure
- This too shall pass
- Search for perfection
- Acquiescence in meetings
- Process over results
Watch out for early signs of failure: Be alert to pick the early warnings of a change that might not succeed. Here are a few to help you understand.
- This too shall pass: Very often in an organisation, leaders proclaim a state of crisis, define a half-baked plan which gets abandoned at the first few hurdles, and this tends to make the employees jaded. They create their own mechanisms to “manage” the latest initiative, till it passes through.
- Search for perfection: If there is a culture of criticising ideas to a natural death or searching for that perfect solution, it is a sure sign of impending doom, for nothing will ever get done!
- Acquiescence in meetings: If you were expecting debate and you encounter cooperation, beware! Cordial meetings either mean they do not believe it, or they think they can ignore it. The worst is if they really do not care. Either ways, change is not going to materialize.
- Process over results: In some organisations, the presentations, the meetings, the stakeholder buy-in are emphasized so much that they overshadow the end result. So, while there might be an appearance of progress, valuable time is lost with no outcome to show.
Fine-tune the plan as required
Kumar Mangalam Birla, the Chairman of The Aditya Birla Group, counsels leaders to look after ‘the mind’ by saying, “Leaders must have the ability to mind your mind, which means quickly recognizing when one is wrong and changing track accordingly. Also, far from being egocentric, they should have a great sense of humility.” Recognize this fact as you move along the path of change and do not hesitate to tweak the plan if required. Changes made to enhance the quality of the end result are spot-on. Nevertheless, do watch out for any modifications you might be making to appease the stakeholders since these will weaken the overall change process. The other stakeholders will also dig their heels and start expecting adjustments. Lastly, remember, change is a long and tedious journey. Do not expect change en masse, it will happen ONE person at a time. Choose the change champions correctly and they will create a chain reaction to make the change successful. Patience and perseverance are key to your success!
Is HR solely responsible for cultural change?
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