Managing change: how can you successfully structure the inevitable?

Change is a complex journey. Within organizations it takes time, resources, planning and communication to make change work. Altering the skills, behaviors and beliefs of stakeholders is a daunting task. Or is it?

The answer should be yes… and no.

In order to successfully manage complex change, leaders must strike a delicate balance between planning, measuring, and implementing change and enabling, developing and coaching for change. Managers often focus on the former, more measurable tasks and allow the “softer” side of change to fall to the wayside, assuming that change will just “happen.”

Unfortunately, change does not just happen, at least not the kind that leaders are hoping for.  How many times have you heard the following from managers: “The goals and plans were very clearly communicated; I can’t believe we encountered sooo much resistance,” or “the leaders were onboard with the change, but their teams failed to execute it”?

In order to drive desired change that endures, a comprehensive change program should consider and find balance between two key elements of change management: Driving Change and Releasing Change.

The act of Driving Change involves the more tangible aspects of organizational change and lays the foundation of the change program. Activities to drive change address the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of the change program and can involve:

  • Leveraging organizational strategy, vision, mission, objectives and metrics to build a case for change
  • Designing structure, roles, and accountability lines to define the plan for change
  • Using plans, processes, procedures, systems and rules to implement and enable change.

Releasing Change is the “softer side” of change management, which involves managing behaviors and reactions to ensure that stakeholders are engaged and change is embedded within the organization. Activities to release change leverage:

  • Symbols, thoughts, ideas to communicate change
  • Energy, collaboration and motivation to reduce stakeholder resistance
  • Dialogue, engagement, skills and knowledge to ensure that change is enduring and sustainable.

In order to strike a balance between driving and releasing, leaders must consider the diversity of stakeholders that will be impacted by change. What types of information, actions and engagement will your stakeholder groups respond to?

Driving activities resonate with shareholders, decision-makers and metrics-oriented stakeholders. Provide this audience with a clear plan, objective and metrics for measuring success to increase likelihood of early buy in. However, it will be critical in this case to actually release change by regularly communicating outcomes, milestones and quick wins.

Releasing activities will be immediately effective with stakeholders who are not major decision makers, but will bear the brunt of the future change. This group will benefit from constant communication, training and mentoring plans, inclusive working sessions, town halls and other types of empowerment through active involvement to help drive change in behavior and commitment to the initiative.

How do you drive and release change within your organization?

Do leaders tend to do one more so than the other in your organization? 

What consequences have you seen when one or the other element is overlooked?

In future articles in this series we will highlight key insights and concepts associated with change management and discuss how change management can work for your organization.

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