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10 Key Behaviors to Support Your Organizational Change

Image Credit: Ross Findon.

Are you launching a Change Management Program? We’ve put together a list of  behaviors that will help you manage your program – and drive to a number – in a way that supports ongoing sustainable change. Change projects are not easy. They deserve to be done well, both for the people impacted and the organizations they serve.

1. Don’t rush in.

At the start of a major change initiative, there is a temptation to rush in and address the clearly urgent and important goals that you described in your business case. You expect everyone around you to share your enthusiasm, especially if the change you are proposing is going to change the trajectory or your company. Your people won’t agree because, well, CHANGE IS BAD. All change is badly perceived by the people who are impacted but haven’t involved in the decision. So don’t rush in and ask everyone to run with you. Create a communications plan that explains why you’re changing, how you’re going to do it and what you’re expecting from your people.

2. Talk less, listen more.

You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. In fact, you probably shouldn’t be. As leaders, we are tempted to prescribe a solution, sometimes to every problem that is put to us. Shift the focus to, and build engagement with, your team by asking them for their opinions, listening to what they have to say first, and building solutions that take their opinions into account. Just taking the time to listen to suggestions and genuinely acknowledging fears will go a long way to building engagement in the change. If you are able to incorporate suggestions into the plan, you will probably get a better overall plan and outcome.

3. Assume value.

Not everything that was done ‘the old way’ was bad.  Assume value in what others are telling you.  Look to understand the old ways of working and how they came to be in order to design new ways that fit the unique needs of your organization. There’s always some stuff worth keeping and it’s usually tied to industry practices or something firmly entrenched in the company culture. Try to find the hidden gems in the muck, but most importantly, assume that what they’re telling you has value. Because they value it.

4. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Change programs will stretch you in ways you haven’t even thought of yet. They also tend to be long term – often years long.  Don’t run the projects like a sprint, prepare and run them like a marathon.  Plan out the course, train for it, and pace yourself.  It’s going to be a long ride and there are going to be bumps along the way. We’ve seen plenty of projects where leaders burn themselves out because they didn’t plan, and set their own expectations appropriately.

5. Practice healthy habits.

Don’t sacrifice good eating, sleep and exercise habits during a change program. It’s a mistake.  Productivity drops with poor eating and exercise habits and there is a correlation between a lack of sleep and impaired decision making. It’s also worth mentioning that there are going to be times when you’re working 60 hour weeks. You can do this for a little while – a few weeks maybe – but not years. Don’t try. It’s a mistake. Really. We’re not working in the ER saving lives here. Keep perspective and remember #4.

6. Your people want to do a good job.

Your people want to do a good job. You just moved the goal post – maybe to the other side of the field. They don’t know what good looks like and performance is going to drop. A lot. Like 40% (seriously). Recognize that there’s going to be some noise,  confusion and maybe even chaos and you try to steer the organization in a different direction. Use your project plan to break work down into manageable chunks and use your communication plan to explain what you want your people to do. Repeat yourself. We find that we generally have to communicate something 5 times across different channels and mediums before the message is received.

7. Create structure in the chaos.

Change programs often feel like constant firefighting.  Turnover is up, morale is down, and your people are stressed. Create some stability amid the turmoil by setting up a meeting rhythm that your people can rely on no matter what.  Daily huddles, weekly  checkpoint meetings, structured status reporting, regular feedback sessions, and project planning and tracking mechanisms will keep the team focused and create a structure that allows you to move forward and achieve goals.

8. Recognize early and often.

This is often overlooked, especially in change projects where there is a restructuring component or mass layoffs. How you you recognize and reward people who are designing their colleagues out of a job? If your team is working on a change program that might save  the company or protect it’s competitive advantage in the marketplace, then they should be recognized for their contribution. It has to be done carefully and with the utmost tact, but don’t overlook the hard work of the team just because they’re making difficult choices.

9. Exits are hard.

A lot of the change programs that we’ve worked on have involved employee exits. Some people choose to resign, often with little notice, and others will be asked to leave.  It’s never easy – and it’s not supposed to be. If you’re struggling with employee exits, ask for help. They deserve to be done well for the overall success of the change project. It’s not only about supporting the people who are leaving the organization, it’s also about the perceptions, and engagement of the people that stay behind.

10. It’s not a democracy.

You’re going to make some hard choices. Plan your change, communicate clearly, communicate often, listen to your people and incorporate suggestions when appropriate. But, at the end of the day, once you have initiated the program, the change is neither up for negotiation, nor is it open to a vote. You’ve got your case for change and your job is to deliver the return on investment. Go get it.