Change management is dead – long live continuous change
Change management has become one of the keywords of today’s world. In many IT projects, it is still a sandbox setting and only slowly do companies realise how important it is not to simply impose change on others, but to let them actively participate. But now change management itself must change.
What is change management?
The term change management covers all measures that can be taken to accompany and positively influence a change. The range is wide and includes everything from tools such as stakeholder analysis and change impact analysis to training measures and communication with all facets.
The results of some of these measures are not immediately visible, they remain rather project-internal. The stakeholder analysis provides a comprehensive overview of all stakeholders, their requirements for the project result, their concerns, wishes and other points. This makes it an important aid in formulating and addressing messages.
The Change Impact Analysis shows exactly which changes various stakeholders see coming with the project. Do you feel up to the new workload or does the team need to grow? Or are there interfaces that are still unclear or not taken into account? The answers to these and similar questions not only play a role in the development process. From the point of view of a change manager, it is particularly important to know the concrete wishes of his customers in order to be able to align communication with them.
Training and communication measures on the other hand are directly visible to all outsiders. The users get to know the new tools and processes and learn how the change should proceed as planned.
But all measures have one thing in common: Up to now, they have been planned, delegated and implemented from above. The employees are merely the recipients of the measures.
Why is classic change management dead?
This is exactly where the problem lies. Classical change management is only seen in the context of a project and rarely in a company context. It assumes that at some point the change is over and then everything calms down again. It may be different than before, but once you get used to the new situation, it’s not so bad anymore.
One of the best known change models is from Kurt Lewin. In 1947 he formulated his famous 3-phase model in which he describes the transition from an old structure to a new one. In the first phase, the “Unfreezing”, the change is prepared and planned. The organisation is thawed and made fit for movement. In the “Moving” phase, the new state is brought about. All participants are moving from the old to the new state. And in the final phase of “Refreezing” the new state is “frozen”. Everything settles and becomes the new standard.
However, a lot of time has passed since 1947 and the working world has changed massively. The model described was well suited for temporary projects where it is clear that after the end a standard will be maintained over a longer period of time. But such projects no longer exist today. A new law, a new boss or the restructuring of the department – every month there are new influences that change the work of the employees.
We live in a time of constant change. So in the future, change management will no longer be a temporary activity. Change managers will be in constant use to guide entrepreneurs, managers and employees through changes and to bring them into line with each other.
Who has to do what at this stage?
In order to be prepared for the future, a rethink must take place. And not only on the side of the employees, but also among managers and entrepreneurs.
Employees recognise that they will no longer find the peace of mind that our parents promised us with a secure job.
My father, born in 1954, was employed in mining all his life. He has indeed developed, learned and been given new tasks. But the basic activities remained the same and it was clear to him that he would continue to work in mining. When I started my own professional life, he told me: “Find something in an office, you have something there that will stay the same for the rest of your life.”If he knew how wrong he was about that.
In the future, employees must be able to find themselves again and again, willing to learn throughout their lives and thus adapt their services to the needs of their employers. They can do this if they learn to think entrepreneurially.
What began with a very general improvement initiative quickly took on a life of its own and today ensures the continuous development of a medium-sized company in Lower Franconia. An employee submitted a proposal to regulate the toilet lighting with a timer and won a small prize. He liked it so much that he wanted to expand the initiative further. With the help of the company management, the works council and many more, it has now become a monthly contest. Every month there is a new question like “How can we save printing costs?”, “What measures can increase employee satisfaction?”, but also “How can we boost sales in Asia?”.
Entrepreneurs must promote precisely this entrepreneurial thinking. Even today, employees are no longer mere recipients of orders; they are increasingly shaping their work themselves and focusing on results. It is becoming more and more important that their mission statement becomes the corporate goal.
In order to carry this corporate goal forward and link it with the goals of the department, managers who think leadership differently are needed. Inspiration becomes more important than motivation and solutions more important than key figures.
How do you get that under one hat?
The change management of the future no longer sets out clear paths that those involved should stubbornly follow without asking questions. Change will no longer be an action, but an attitude that arises when everyone follows a common guiding star.
Simon Sinek has put it wonderfully to the point in his book “Start with a WHY”. According to this book, communication in companies can be divided into three phases:
Most entrepreneurs manage to communicate a “what” to their team. What needs to be done? “Next year, we have to increase our sales by 3%.” The information is quite thin and can be interpreted in many ways. The ways to get there are not clear and especially the reasons nobody can understand.
Some manage to convey a “how”. How can sales be increased by 3%? “We increase turnover by making acquisitions at national trade fairs and by introducing a new CRM system.” With the “how”, the employees at least already recognise which path the entrepreneur wants to take. Classical change management and its communication usually ends here.
Only very few manage to pass on a “why”. Perhaps because they are not aware of the “why” themselves. Perhaps also because they assume that employees are not interested or do not understand it. For whatever reason, these entrepreneurs are giving away a great deal of potential. Because if you manage to make other people understand a “why” and to inspire them to do so, you make these people take new paths and find their own solutions. They no longer just put their own goals forward, but combine them with the company goal. And they act accordingly: Those who have understood that the company must come out of the red do not steal copy paper. Anyone who has understood that the company wants to become the market leader for high-quality products will not let five straight in production out of disinterest. And whoever has accepted which “why” will want to convince his colleagues just as much.
A fitting example of a “why” happened to me myself last year when I accompanied a customer during the introduction of Office 365. The majority of the employees had already been converted and were able to use the new programs. But it didn’t go beyond Word, Excel and PowerPoint – no one worked with the OneNote virtual notebook or used the video conferencing feature in Skype for Business. They had not done so before.
In our conversation, my client revealed his “why” bit by bit. Why did he want to switch to the new software? And why did he want his employees to use the new tools? With exactly this information, he invited all site managers to a video conference. In the video conference he revealed his reasons, he spoke about the company’s competitiveness, about the stagnation on the international market and about his vision to conquer a market that was completely unknown until now. He had the conference recorded and then made it available to everyone via the intranet. In one fell swoop, he had all the site managers behind him, who in turn were to inspire the employees.
Do not babble. Live!
And that brings me to the final and perhaps most important point: Entrepreneurs can no longer order change, they have to live it themselves. They are not credible if they encourage their employees to adhere to processes and use tools that do not apply to them.
In my opinion, an absolute negative example is an entrepreneur who “ordered” his managers and employees to have regular feedback meetings. Everyone should be able to say openly what they did not like and how things could be improved. Especially with his top executives, he naturally wanted to participate in the appointments. He wanted to recognise the potential for improvement and be able to act quickly. That alone was a “no-go”, but the fact that he did not allow any feedback appointments himself was the crowning touch in the eyes of employees and managers alike. Is it surprising that the fluctuation rate is particularly high in this company?
I am convinced that in 10 years hardly anyone will talk about change management anymore. It will be absurd to want to manage a change for a limited period of time. In contrast, the change attitude, whatever name there is for it, will be all the more well-known and important: Show as an entrepreneur what you want to achieve. Give your managers and employees a sense of purpose in their work. Live out what you preach. As a manager, carry this meaning further and break down the big goal into small goals. Ask questions and give feedback, thereby sharpening the company goal and not only making it clearer for yourself. And as an employee you react flexibly to the demands from inside and outside to do your part in achieving the goal.
By the way: You don’t need buzzword bingo, it’s more likely to hurt. Don’t turn “those affected into participants” and “don’t take the people with you”, if you have to resort to such phrases, it only gives the impression that you haven’t dealt with the project details deeply enough.
Stephanie Selmer has published more articles in the t2informatik Blog, including
Strong companies do not only rely on new IT systems for their way into the future, but above all on their employees. Stephanie Selmer supports organisations in making changes, improving cooperation, achieving common goals and finding IT professionals. Her clients include medium-sized companies from all sectors who see digitalisation as an opportunity to empower their employees.