Even with the best planning and implementation, change is never all puppy dogs and ice cream. There’s generally some turbulence along the way. Leadership expert Robin Sharma once said, “Change is hard in the beginning, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.”

These hard and messy phases frustrate leaders and team members alike. The performance dip that sets in at the onset of a change is never what we expect to happen.

But the severity and duration of that performance dip can be greatly influenced by leadership. Leaders who properly prepare for change and help their teams do the same can shorten time spent in the “messy middle” and minimize the performance decrease.

Before initiating a change at your company, consider employing these change-management preparation strategies.

  1. Complete a stakeholder analysis. Here’s how your stakeholder analysis should go:

Determine the most influential people affected by the change. Once they’re identified, these folks should be first to enroll in the change. The enrolled influencers become sponsors, who then enroll others. Enrollment, therefore, becomes a top-down process, ending at the individual contributor level.

Next, determine what reactions to the change might be. Decide what communication, messages and training will help people understand the change. When large-scale, enterprisewide initiatives roll out, provide comprehensive communication and training programs. It’s important that leadership be the voice of those initiatives, as people will listen most closely to those messages. Understand that during this time, employees will watch your actions and reactions closer than ever.

Everyone processes change differently. While early adopters exit a shallower change curve quicker, late adopters remain in a deeper change curve for a longer period of time, and that’s OK. It can help to remind people that they’re in the midst of processing a lot of change, and it’s OK to feel unsettled.

  1. Identify the early adopters. These individuals tend to embrace change and become energized by the opportunity to acquire knowledge and develop new skills. From there, identify who exceeds the current performance expectations and can quickly attain any new skills necessary for the change. Urge these individuals to work on the front lines of the change effort. These people should be known as champions — individual contributor-level peers who are readily accessible to help co-workers through the change.

Champions must have the following three qualities:

  • They must exceed performance expectations.
  • They must have an aptitude and a desire for training.
  • Finally, they must be change adopters. The earlier change adopters enter the change curve, the more likely they’ll be out of the change curve by the time they need to start training people.

Learning leaders can’t be everywhere, and these change champions will reinforce key messages, and provide real-time feedback and instruction as people practice and demonstrate new skills. Early adopters tend to have the mindset and skills to be effective change champions.

For change efforts requiring skill development, consider taking champions off their regular schedule, at least partially, to devote time to on-the-job peer engagement.

  1. Identify potential roadblocks. Communicating concerns as early as possible allows time to address them. Further, the organization needs to determine which roadblocks are enterprisewide and which are specific to an individual group. From there, address the blocker globally, or support the identified group.

Remember, change represents cost. A change initiative is often implemented to improve the bottom line. The frustration is that because of the change curve, bottom-line improvements aren’t realized as quickly as expected or planned for. Resources that would normally be spent doing business are spent executing change.

Sometimes it makes sense to bring in a third-party to reduce the performance setback that comes with any business change. There are many moving parts that make up a truly successful change-management program.

Change also brings opportunity. In addition to following the strategy outlined here, be sure to tap into your network. Ask how others have implemented change, what the outcomes were, and what are their lessons learned to minimize the messy middle to reach that gorgeous end.

Gail Eisenstein is a lead instructional designer, and Tim Coffey is an instructional designer and a writer at SweetRush Inc. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.


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