Continuing his series of articles about change management, Edgars Stafeckis borrows some great advice from a legend and together they explain what steps to follow to increase your chance of successfully completing a change management project.

In my previous article, I covered change management in general, as well as the emotional phases that someone affected by change undergoes. I broke the good news that everything, including change management, can be structured. Today I have some additional good news – you don’t have to invent the bicycle. Legendary John. P. Kotter is standing by with a model describing in detail what to do to archive maximum results from your change management process. I also strongly suggest you dig into his classic book “Leading Change” to gain more insight.

Each step has its own suggestions on what to do and what potential missteps to avoid. When everything seems to be going smoothly, I often get tempted to avoid one or more of the steps, but eventually the choice of taking this shortcut inevitably comes back to sink it’s teeth into me.

This time I’ll share the seamless theory that can be applied universally to every change management project, be it change of a process, or merging of systems, business units or companies. But I’ve also have the next article about practical experience and suggestions for each step already lined up, so keep your eyes open for that.

Before we dig into each step, I’ll just add that I have often encountered some skepticism about the discipline of change management.

“Our case is special” is something you’ll hear when initiating almost every project that requires change. I can assure you that while every project can certainly have its own nuances, the main principles never change. It makes sense to learn from the mistakes made by somebody else, already packaged and described for easy consumption.

1. Create urgency (not panic) that the change is necessary

You can identify your arguments by looking at current and foreseeable trend in your market and/or industry. Data and analysis about various trends are readily available today, so look for potential danger or opportunities for competition to leapfrog your company (or vice versa). It is important to convince a strong majority of stakeholders – leaders of your company and business units – that there is more danger in changing nothing than in embracing the change. But be aware of:

  • Assumption that everyone – your colleagues and employees (humans!) will just change because you wish them to. Even if they claim that you have their support – just wait until change forces them to leave their comfort zone;
  • Trying to answer all questions prior to implementing change, thus delaying the process.

2. Form a powerful coalition that will drive the change

While the team should include stakeholders, not everyone on it must be a C-level executive. It’s more important that this team has a common goal and enthusiasm about it. And of course, that team members are able to collaborate. Avoid trusting team leadership to someone who’s never worked with leaders or assigning a formal leader with no authority.

 3. Create a strong vision for change

No.2 in Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is “Begin with end in mind”. It means to begin with a clear vision about the end result you want to achieve. This vision then serves as a basis for a strategy that will bring it to life. Think carefully about formulating your vision – if it will be too complicated or too simplistic, people will either fail to understand it or will not take it seriously, and therefore will not “buy” it. Good training is coming up with an “elevator pitch” – formulating your idea so that can be clearly relayed in the time it takes for one elevator ride with the potential buyer.

4. Communicate the vision

Don’t hesitate to use all channels at your disposal to communicate the vision. Post it on the intranet or internal newsletter, e-mail it and publish it on the info wall, include it in the keynotes and speeches of the company leadership in various events. All of it should communicate one clearly defined vision to gain maximum reach and exposure, as it will be nearly impossible to initiate any change if those that need to participate are not fully informed and on board.

If it’s about introducing new habits, change management team should demonstrate them in their daily work lives. If organization wants to move to only using digital documents, then the change management group, company leadership and their supporters should go out of their way to sign everything digitally and clearly show how that increases their efficiency.

Action speaks louder than words and there is nothing more detrimental to any change process than not practicing what you preach.

5. Remove obstacles

One of the conditions to successfully implement the change is to removing any obstacles that people might face when trying to try out the new order, system or whatever it is you’re changing. Those obstacles can be either technological (inadequate equipment), organizational (no time or information) or purely emotional (fear, uncertainty, prejudice). By removing those obstacles as much as possible, more and more people will get involved in a change process at some point reaching the critical mass. Still, the critics and opponents will inevitably show themselves and will have to be dealt with.

6. Create short term wins

Fast wins are one of the first indicators that will validate the change and assure the doubters that it is not only possible but also advantageous. So you must carefully prepare and plan for those wins so they would be both reasonably achievable and clearly impactful. The win can be an increase of sales or revenue in a certain time period, or it can be positive feedback from customers or employees, achieved because of the new order. Don’t hesitate to communicate those wins, and praise those employees whose actions are aligned with the new vision and strategy. That may inspire their colleagues.

Be careful about the first results though. If they are not a “win”, it will be very hard to change this first impression. Also, these fast or short term wins can’t really come fast enough – in literature and also practice there are maximum of 12 to 24 months allocated for the first positive outcomes to appear. It will practically impossible to maintain the attention and patience of the involved stakeholders for any longer.

7. Build on the change

This is the moment of truth. Previously acquired confidence and results must now be used to convince the whole company that it is possible to do things differently. To change habits, processes, technology, structures and, after all, the organization in general. Hire, develop and promote those, who live this vision, thus adding to the change coalition. Achieve even better results. But don’t celebrate your victory too early.

8. Make new order the standard practice

By this time the successful change management process will have resulted in practical results and the new order will be here to stay. This is the moment to anchor the new practices and even values by writing them down in your mission statement, operating procedures and other documents. Don’t forget to define and communicate your intentions for future improvements and change. Because nothing is more permanent than change.