Change Management: Not Just for Projects

The SARAH change curve highlights the stages most people will go through while adapting to change: Shock, Anger, Rejection, Acceptance, and Health.  

The SARAH change curve highlights the stages most people will go through while adapting to change: Shock, Anger, Rejection, Acceptance, and Health.  

Often, when receiving requests to provide support or training on change management, a company is already amid a period of upheaval. This might be restructuring, downsizing, expanding or adjusting the way work is done. Regardless of the timing, it is beneficial for people to receive resources to support their roles- whether it is leading change or becoming a champion for change. However, it’s challenging to implement training to support change management when the change is already happening. To provide more value to your company, train your leaders and champions to incorporate change management techniques into daily practice rather than something that is turned on and off depending on current project load. To create resiliency in your organization, integrate these four easy steps into daily work:
Understand your own reaction to change.
Many have likely heard the much-referenced statistic from McKinsey and Company that 70% of organizational change initiatives fail. While startling at first, upon further reflection, many employees have no trouble remembering projects they took part of that just… fizzled away. How much of that falls to the company and how much of that falls to us as individuals? We will inevitably reach points in our careers where we need to champion a change initiative that we don’t fully support. What do you do in those moments? Do you complete tasks assigned to you and stay out of the rest? Do you get a seat at the table and bring up your thoughts and challenges? If you shirk back, it’s okay. Recognize your triggers and step up to ask questions to ensure a successful implementation.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Provide forums to share updates within your team. This may be a weekly team meeting, a daily huddle or during one-on-one conversations with individual employees. Are things status quo or is there an event on the horizon to inform a team before it lands on their laps as “the next big project” to drop everything and work on? Often, leaders don’t communicate the possibility of change because they don’t want to create a distraction or make people nervous. Provide enough time for people to react to a change or voice thoughts during a planning process that can derail a project if brought up too late.

Be honest.
As a leader, it is important to share your thoughts about the change with your team. When you first heard about it, did you think of potential roadblocks? What about the downstream benefits? It helps the team to know thoughtful planning took place. The message shouldn’t be given as “I’m not happy about this, but we have to do it anyways,” rather “here are some potential challenges I see and here are some of the ways we can work to get through them.” Honesty will bring the team together and encourage feedback to create best practices.  

Recognize emotions of change.
Everybody has different emotions regarding change. Some embrace it, some shy away and others might be angry. Most everybody will think about what this means for them and what they are giving up. Provide people with space to retreat temporarily from the change process and come back reinvigorated to move forward.
In the end, it comes to our own empowerment as leaders to keep a change process top of mind until it becomes an established habit. With consistent reinforcement, teams will push through the awkward phase of change and will be less likely to revert back to the old process. This reinforcement should not fall solely on your shoulders- engage your process champions to promote the work and reinforce their own engagement.