Organizations are constantly changing. These can be chosen changes, such as rolling out a new software, like Guru, to your tech stack or choosing a new snack for the communal office pantry. Other adjustments, like the need to rapidly build out a work from home protocol for example, are outside of your control.
Change itself is inevitable, the question becomes how well can you best regulate, streamline, and encourage its adoption. John Kotter, an authority on change, and his organization has studied thousands of companies and their change management programs. By breaking down his findings, we can understand why the resounding key to successful change management is creating a sense of urgency.
While navigating change can be tricky, below are the four steps to thoughtfully rolling out and successfully implementing changes within your organization with a shared sense of urgency at the center of your change management process. Maybe cultivating urgency around switch ups to the snack bar isn't totally necessary, but we’ll let your change management team be the judge of that.
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The 4 steps to successful change management:
Step 1: Engage stakeholders
Successful change management requires buy-in and support from the majority of your organization. Even when a decision has already been made, internal buy-in is essential to successful transitions. You have to meet people where they are. This starts with actively listening to those impacted by the development so that they feel heard. Understand their pain points, let people ask their questions, and be prepared to answer. Don’t gloss over the difficult parts. By being honest, realistic, and forthright, you can simultaneously acknowledge concerns as well as excitement to create a shared sense of urgency.
Let people know what’s in it for them! This allows them to internalize the benefits and feel a personal sense of agency over the transition. Transparency is key. Ensure a mutual understanding of what the implications are at an individual level and for the organization as a whole. If you're not putting thought into, and communicating, how this will affect teams at every level; change management can come across and inauthentic and ineffective.
Engaging with stakeholders in a variety of settings and styles will build communal support. For example, giving employees the space to speak up at all hands meetings, while also having one-on-ones and anonymous feedback portals for those who don’t feel comfortable raising their questions and concerns in a group setting. By creating spaces for diverse perspectives to be heard, you can co-create the best possible solutions.
Step 2: Go slow to go fast
When it comes to change management, intentionally taking your time at the onset will make all the difference. Speed will come when your teams fully understand the urgency behind the shift. Be intentional about creating clarity and alignment around the why, why now, and how with a set change team that includes representatives from each impacted area of your org. Here at Guru, we recommend setting up a Knowledge Council to ensure that proper documentation of the change, be it a new software rollout or updates to your brand messaging, is readily available and continuously brought up to date. This type of change team can look and feel however works best in your org.
Regardless of the structure of your change team, ensure that a top priority is communication. For a successful rollout of an internal change, there must be clearly communicated expectations across teams. If clear structures and expectations aren’t outlined early on, implementing an org-wide change can quickly get off track. Surely you can remember a project (or multiple projects) that dragged on for longer than anticipated, lost their steam, and subsequently their intent altogether.
The change team should define a future state (ie. the point in time at which this change will be the new norm). Anticipation for this “future state” creates sustainable change; it gives people the energy to push through the more unglamorous aspects of rolling out and adjusting. Get leadership engagement and buy-in, not only for the vision of the future state, but also for the urgency of getting there.
“Leaders establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there.” - John Kotter
This future-oriented behavior should be modeled by both the change team and leadership. Leadership teams within organizations are constantly being observed; if they don’t demonstrate the urgency, need, and enthusiasm for the change, you can bet that the project will lose traction.
Don’t get too tied up in strategizing for the future and the what-could-be’s. Instead, prioritize creating an environment that enables people to move forward, at their own pace, with the change that you’re implementing. You’re playing the long game here to get the the future state.
Step 3: Remove barriers to urgency
It’s important to create true urgency, not frenetic urgency. Frenetic urgency creates burnout, it gives people the sense of been there, done that, nothing happened. It’s meetings for meetings sake, it’s projects that never finish, it’s circular conversations with no action. People pick up on this, and they don’t want to invest the time and energy. It requires forced compliance which is no fun for anyone. In this scenario, complacency takes over until the next shiny thing gets their attention.
Many times, the biggest barrier you will come across is the case to do nothing. For most, that is an easier, safer state. You’ll come across those that face a change rollout and default to a “that’s not my job” mentality. Maybe they don’t understand the ROI, don’t see the impact for themselves, or don’t have the agency to act.
Remember, your goal is achieving >50% buy-in, so it’s important to engage with those detractors and address their concerns. One way to do this is through demonstrating the small wins often; it will reinforce what you want to see more of to your teams.
“A win is anything that is happening today that wasn’t happening yesterday.” - John Kotter
Step 4: Communicate the urgency
Communicate early and often; the starting point is the time to go across your organization’s silos. There’s also some skill and intention needed to make the message stick, imbue the message with some heart in the why, not just from a technical standpoint. Our brains like predictability so create a regular communication cadence across multiple channels (Slack, Guru, email, team meetings, all hands, etc.) to reach the largest audience possible. People need to hear things multiple times to remember your message. Don’t get so lost in the strategy and execution that you forget to bring your team along the journey with you!
Yes — change can be daunting, but it’s also exciting. Enacting a change, big or small, is the foundation of evolving as professionals and as an organization at large. Sometimes the word urgency can be intimidating, if need be, replace a sense of “urgency” with a proxy word that aligns with your organization’s culture.