To successfully manage change, organizations must secure the green light and engagement from the top, drive alignment – and make sure they’re ready to be transformed.
Change management has become a necessity for organizations aiming to achieve sustainable growth, as they seek ways to seize opportunities in disruption and leverage digital transformation.
Unlike technological improvements or project adjustments that tend to be siloed and more easily applied, change management is structural, and usually long-term, with effects that impact all levels of the organization.
But when positive change is implemented properly, the results prove their worth: Companies are able to cut waste, contain costs and make smarter decisions, while boosting productivity, reducing risks and growing profit.
In Part 1 of the Roundtable Series, Level5 Strategy’s Managing Partner Claude Ricks, Principal Jordan Shapiro and Senior Consultant Joseph Smith, reveal how organizations can lay the groundwork for change to maximize its success.
What are the most important steps when it comes to preparing for successful change?
- Getting the green light and securing engagement from the top.
- Setting an ambitious vision and direction from the C-suite.
- Empowering employees at all levels to embrace change.
Jordan: Strategies and plans are great stories – articulations of choices and direction. But they don’t deliver themselves, which is why the C-suite needs to bring them to life for their organization, customers and stakeholders. People must know where they’re going so that everyone has the same view of why and how in order to be able to deliver on plans. Change management is about getting people to understand that the direction of change needs to be treated with the priority and urgency to turn change plans into reality. So where does it all start? With the commitment and energy from the C-suite.
Joe: We worked with a client whose C-suite started with a grand vision: “We’re going to transform and become the challenger brand of the future, and we’re going to steal market share from the bigger players.” I don’t think that this can be understated – the power of a clearly articulated, bold vision that people can rally around. There are many famous examples from history that prove this is the case. JFK said, “We choose to go to the moon.” Today, we have a modern equivalent of that with Elon Musk who says that humans could live on Mars. And then, we have (Level5 Strategy Founder) David Kincaid who says “I want to have more friends than I have employees.” And that impacts everything. When the C-suite articulates a bold vision, people get behind it.
Claude: The value of change strategy often exists only on paper. Owners of change must be engaged in order to help the rest of the organization embrace it. Said differently, great strategies are meaningless unless change owners are part of the solution. This is needed to empower all employees – at the management and staff level – so they can start making and designing changes across processes and structures that point towards the endgame.
“Change management is about getting people to understand that the direction of change needs to be treated with the priority and urgency to turn change plans into reality.”
How do you guide organizations on their journey of change and ensure everyone’s engaged? Level5 Strategy guides them by:
- Leveraging powerful narratives to support clients.
- Articulating what the endgame looks like.
- Building executive alignment around where the organization is heading.
Claude: People are hesitant to jump into something new if they don’t have clarity about where they’re heading. We help clients gain this clarity with a tool we call “Narratives” and which depicts the end game of the change process. Narratives help us answer the question, “Where is this change going?” We explain to clients that they’re not jumping into a dark hole hoping they can figure things out on the go. We get alignment early on, as we answer questions such as “What does this mean for my organization?” and “What will this change look like?” Fears and change barriers start to break down once we ensure they have answers to these questions. We employ Narratives across multiple levels of the organization, so it’s not just top-down, it’s bottom-up. As a result, we achieve alignment across the organization.
Joe: Everyone in the communication thread must be looped in about the desired outcomes – from the C-Suite all the way to the front line. Sometimes, people become worried that the change is going to impact the organization negatively and this is when conflicts ensue. Change has to be communicated properly. It’s the vision that informs the planning but it’s all about the human element of the execution – that’s the key thing, including the communication of the strategy throughout the process.
This is also when operating principles for change come in which can remove the potential for human errors.
“It’s the vision that informs the planning but it’s all about the human element of the execution – that’s the key thing, including the communication of the strategy throughout the process.”
How can organizations prepare for change? They can:
- Set the guiding principles for transformation.
- Identify people’s future roles.
- Embrace the Minimum Viable Product mindset.
Jordan: My experience with clients has shown that the Narratives tool is a necessary step in setting the guiding principles for clients on their journey of change. But we also make sure that the organization understands that they’re designing the change – not just designing the specific path of getting there. Everyone in the organization leading the change is a puzzle piece that needs to fit with other puzzle pieces. They’re building all the supporting mechanisms that need to be in place to help people who are in charge of delivering the plan. They’re concerned with questions such as “Who can I go to for help?” and “Who can I trust and lean on to support me?” or “How do I know where to find answers to questions I have?” With the guiding principles in place, we ensure that all the answers to these questions are established before the journey starts. The answers equip the client with direction so they feel empowered about where they’re going.
Claude: Sometimes, change management is a case of post-merger integration. If there’s ever a point where emotions are high, it’s when two companies are coming together because everyone’s looking for their seat. People think of it as a game of musical chairs, they’re thinking “Am I going to get a seat?” and “Do I get a seat at the big kids’ table or the little kids’ table?” We help uncover people’s future roles so they know what tomorrow holds and are comfortable with where the change is going. When the roles are defined, people are engaged
Joe: We help people understand that the bold vision their organization has developed is going to be a multi-year journey and that things will change along the way. Our job is to ensure that they’re well provisioned because things are going to change as they’re changing. In five years organizations will be operating in a different world than they did when they embarked on this journey. This means they need to be proactive and reactive at the same time. They must be able to anticipate the future in order to establish a feedback loop in their strategic planning. This feedback loop iterates the plan and empowers organizations to assess it at various points. A big part of the plan is embracing the Minimum Viable Product mindset that helps set the stage for future product development. If organizations don’t plan for the future and anticipate change, their change management plan is more likely to fail.
“Our job is to ensure that they’re well provisioned because things are going to change as they’re changing. In five years organizations will be operating in a different world than they did when they embarked on this journey.”
To capitalize on opportunities in today’s disruptive environment, businesses must plan for change and effectively manage the journey – even as existing plans change and risks hit out of nowhere. To deliver a successful change management process, organizations must first establish ownership and generate engagement from the top. Then, they need to garner alignment on the vision for the change they want to achieve and assess their readiness for transformation. Once organizations learn how to successfully manage change, they can attain a number of benefits – from driving sustainable growth and reducing costs to boosting productivity and unlocking smarter decision-making for the future.
Keep reading Level5 Strategy’s thought leadership content for Part 2 of the Roundtable Series on change management, Embarking on the journey – Executing successful change.