What Does It Take To Make Effective Change?
As a leader, effective change is probably a very common part of your vocabulary. “Improve this process to make work go more smoothly.” “Implement this new procedure to comply with the new regulation.” “Let’s adjust our focus to improve the profit margin.” “Improve the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the organization.” The topic of creating effective change comes up on a regular basis and is disguised by many different words.
As a leader, it is very common to want to make sweeping changes and make them happen NOW, but it is not always possible. There tends to be resistance to change because it causes people to go out of their comfort zone. Effective change requires that people do something new that is unfamiliar or unknown. People many times are afraid that when the changes occur they won’t be able to perform as well as they do in their current position and it will put their jobs in jeopardy. They can also be afraid that change will eliminate the need for their position. These fears are very valid in many cases and cause a tremendous amount of anxiety when people hear the word change.
So what does it take to implement an effective change? Is it even possible? Yes it is possible to implement effective change! The steps below explain how it can be done.
1. Identify the problem or reason for change.
Before you can make any effective change, you must have a full understanding of what is currently happening. Why were the current practices chosen in the past and how were they effective? Also, why are they needing to be changed and how will the proposed change be an improvement?
You should know both the good and the bad of what is currently happening. Once you identify both, you should identify specifically what needs to be improved and why. The worst thing you can do is change something just for the sake of changing it.
If you don’t have a full understanding of the current process, you will probably have a very hard time betting the buy-in of others. On the other hand, when you have a full understanding of the existing process you will be able to explain very specifically why the existing process doesn’t work and why your changes will fix or improve it.
2. Have a clear image of your expected end result.
From the beginning you should have an image in your mind of what you want the end result to be. That image will help you to set reasonable goals and steps as you move forward. It can change over time as the process gets going, but without an image of what you expect it to become it will be hard to promote to others. Having a clear image of the end result in mind will allow you to have clear objectives for making the change. Those objectives will be very important for step 4.
3. Get input and buy-in from stakeholders.
No one likes to get caught off guard. If you plan to make a major change, you should let your stakeholders know as early as possible once you get complete the first two steps. By letting them know early on, you plant the seed of what is to come.
As the seed begins to grow, the stakeholders can go from totally against an idea to completely for it. When stakeholders have doubts or questions you can also answer and resolve them and/or make changes before it is too late. There will also be cases where the stakeholders will have valuable input that they can contribute in the early stages.
These questions and input will allow the seed to grow and flourish as the stakeholders think about it. As the seed grows, you should cultivate it. You can cultivate it by asking feedback questions and getting input. After time, the seed grows to the point of buy-in. At the same time, if the idea is not acceptable to the stakeholders, you will know early enough along that you won’t spend a lot of resources on a failed idea.
4. Create a change plan.
Once you get buy-in on your idea, you should create a detailed plan stating how you will move forward with the change. The plan should show what you are going to do at each step, as well as, who will be involved.
In addition, state why each change is necessary. Your change plan should be detailed so it can act as a roadmap for your progress. The plan should include all of the major benchmarks and the little steps that need to happen for the change plan to be a success. The change plan should also state what the end goals are to keep them present in everyone’s mind. In addition, the change plan should identify what resources will be needed at each step.
5. Identify your timeline.
Along with the change plan, you should have a specified timeline. The timeline should coincide with the steps in change plan. There are many different types of timelines you can use. One effective timeline is a gantt chart. The gantt chart should show each step that will happen and how much time it will take. There are many gantt chart templates in Excel or on the internet that you can use for your gantt chart.
6. Make assignments.
Once the change plan is outlined, you will need to implement it. As part of the implementation, you should delegate responsibilities where possible. You should make assignments to key players in the implementation plan. As those steps are completed, you should continue to make assignments. Some of those assignments can be to yourself as well as to others.
7. Hold people accountable for their responsibilities.
Once you make assignments, you need to hold people accountable. When people are held accountable, they will perform better. In order to hold people accountable, you need to set clear guidelines and expectations. You should let them know what you want and when you want it completed.
It is easy to make a blanket request, but If you do that, your request will probably be so vague that it will be hard to accomplish. For example, you could say, “Design and build a bridge for me.” Someone could interpret this to mean a little walking bridge to go across a small creek when you actually want the Golden Gate Bridge.
The better request would be, “Design and build me a bridge that can go across a 500 foot river that will support a 50,000 pound load and rainy conditions. In addition, it should include… etc.” You get the picture. If the responsibilities are very clearly defined, it is really easy to hold people accountable.
8. Review progress and identify if the change plan is on track.
It is very important to have periodic progress reviews. During the progress reviews you should discuss what is working well and what needs to be done differently. They should happen regularly so you can focus on the change plan benchmarks. When you identify challenges in the implementation of the change plan, you can use the progress review meetings to discuss possible solutions. As you identify problems, you should also regroup and identify how the process can be changed and improved.
9. Pay attention to the timeline.
There is an old saying that, “Time is money” and it holds true today just as much as it did when it was first mentioned. When you are working on the change plan, you need to focus on the timeline. You need to make sure that people are sticking to the timeline so that you are not overusing your resources. At the same time, if the change plan is taking longer than expected but the reasons are valid, you need to adjust your plan accordingly. If, however, the change plan is going longer than expected and the reasons are not valid, you should take a deep look at why it isn’t going as planned. Timing and timeline are everything.
10. Follow through on the plan.
If you start a change plan and fail to don’t follow through on it, you are wasting your resources. There will be many challenges as you move forward on the change plan, so it is very important that if you embark on a change plan you are willing to stick it out.
As you implement the change plan, be the best you can be. It is easy to get overwhelmed by trying to change everyone and everything as a leader, but if you focus on the steps outlined above your change plan will be successful. If you can’t make all the changes at once, don’t be discouraged because you can always make a few changes at a time. You can use the steps above to change one thing at a time if necessary.