If there is one thing that has characterized the business landscape in the new millennium, it’s change. Disruptive new technologies such as 3-D printing, big data analytics and production line robotics are creating successful new businesses almost overnight, while some traditional business models have become obsolete. Many American companies are struggling to adapt.1
“Organizational change” is the new boardroom buzzword. Retailers are using online sales platforms. Factory owners are bringing in robotics. Suppliers are employing new software-driven inventory techniques. Companies must either adopt the new technologies or succumb to the competition.
Business executives are asking themselves how to make changes in the back office or production floor without alienating their staff.
Change by decree?
Many businesses seeking to adapt get off to an unsteady start because they initiate a change-by-decree strategy. There is a right and wrong way to reset a company’s culture, and authoritarian decrees such as, “Do it because I said so,” are rarely effective.
When leaders announce plans for new initiatives with little or no prior groundwork the effort fail before it begins.
“Forgetting that others in the organization haven’t been a part of the discussions and are not as familiar with all of the reasons for the change, leaders are surprised by the amount of resistance the new change generates,” say management consultants Ken and Scott Blanchard.2
The best way to proceed is from the top down, with company leaders showing themselves as prime exemplars of a new approach. From the start, senior leaders should embody the organization’s new approach, showing employees that real change is underway because it’s already happening at the top.
An appropriate way to motivate change in employees is to provide them with authentic communication about how the organization is proceeding and how it will benefit them. “In the absence of clear, factual communication, people tend to create their own information about the change, and rumors become facts,” the Blanchards say. Decision makers who simultaneously embody and demonstrate the benefits of change within the organization are less likely to face opposition and create a readiness for change before it is implemented.
The Importance of Involving Employees
Executives should plan their change initiatives like generals who prepare for a battle. Anticipate the obvious contingencies ─ the many questions about operations that staff members will have, for example ─ and be prepared to coach people through the process.
But don’t confuse endless PowerPoint presentations with actual communication, as one expert puts it. While meetings and processes can be helpful, they can’t replace meaningful face-to-face communication.
And don’t expect it to be easy. “Change is uncomfortable, and adapting to change is messy,” Fenson notes.
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