Unfortunately, employees tend to resist change. So, how do you introduce change into a business in a successful and sustainable way?

The answer: a solid change management process.

Easier said than done, which is why studying change management in a course like an MBA will stand any aspiring business leader in good stead. Developing your skill set in this area makes you incredibly valuable to an organisation. But why?

With help from our industry expert, Change Management Consultant Friska Wirya, we examine the complex process of change management and why it’s such an important skill to have in your arsenal.

Change management: a comprehensive breakdown

Let’s start at the beginning.

What is change management?

Put simply, change management is the process of overseeing transitions and development within an organisation. Wirya explains it in greater detail.

“It is the rigorous and disciplined approach to preparing, supporting and equipping individuals to adopt often substantial changes to the way they work.”

Change management has an almost 80-year history, with psychologist Kurt Lewin often credited as spearheading change management methodologies in 1947. People saw his ‘changing as three steps’ model — unfreezing, changing and refreezing — as fundamental at the time, but it has since been criticised by scholars for its simplicity.

While these change management principles have been an excellent jumping-off point, questioning them can help us pave the way for new ideas.

So, what are some modern change management strategies? The truth is, there are no set rules. The principles vary greatly, especially as we move into an increasingly digital world.

McKinsey & Company, for example, suggests a five-step model for managing change:

  1. Provide just-in-time feedback by giving direction at a moment when an employee has the capacity to action it.
  2. Personalise the experience by only giving employees the information they need to deal with the change.
  3. Sidestep hierarchy by connecting people across the whole business during the process.
  4. Build empathy, community and shared purpose by helping people see the bigger picture so they know the purpose of the change.
  5. Demonstrate progress by giving employees regular status updates.

Studying an MBA will take you on a deep dive into various change management models and get you up to speed on the latest thinking.  For example, today’s strategies lean more heavily on interpersonal rather than operational factors, prioritising communication, demonstrating strong leadership and fostering connections to make people feel more at ease throughout the process.

Humans fear change. But why?

Let’s face it: we humans are creatures of habit. We like knowing what to expect and have control over our lives. So when change comes along and shakes things up, it’s natural to feel a little uneasy.

This is especially true in the workplace. Since our jobs are where many of us spend most of our waking hours, stability in this space is important.

Organisational change can be distracting, throwing out our usual work routines. It often results in more work, as business-as-usual activities get put on hold while everyone comes to grips with the new way of doing things. It can even make employees feel insecure, fearing for the future of their role and the company as a whole.

A good change management process can help employers can mitigate this fear

What makes a good change management strategy will depend on the scale of the change.

“Changes come in all shapes, sizes, complexity and durations,” explains Wirya. “It could be a short and sharp implementation of a small predictive algorithm like an AI product, or it could be a multi-year effort to change an organisation’s culture.”

It’s a manager’s responsibility to introduce the change with limited disruption for the organisation and its people. An effective change management process will have minimal productivity dips and help employees maintain positive morale throughout.

Crafting an effective change management plan

There are two main types of change that can happen within an organisation:

  • Internal. Driven by staff turnover, restructures or new policies.
  • External. Driven by new technology, industry regulations or operating in growing industries with new competitors.

These two types of changes could be either reactive or proactive:

  • Reactive. Something sudden like a new law forces the business to change quickly.
  • Proactive. When the business owner instigates a change like a move, merger or restructure.

Why is change management important?

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, embarking on a major change without a plan could negatively affect the business. That’s why learning the correct way to implement change as part of an MBA is a highly marketable skill.

As Wirya puts it, “Prevention is much better and cheaper than a cure.”

Investing in change management from the get-go could save your business time, money and energy down the road. Without one, employees’ mental health may suffer, which can result in higher turnover and lower productivity. This is particularly true for organisations that put their employees through repeated change.

How to develop an effective change management strategy

“A good change manager knows how to make the transition as quick and painless as possible,” says Wirya. “That’s the whole point of change management. Get experts in early so they can set up the right conditions for the change to work.”

So – how do you set up these ‘right conditions’?

According to the Australian Government’s guidelines for businesses, you can approach change using four simple steps.

  1. Have a clear picture of your desired outcome.
  2. Develop a change management plan that includes your desired outcome, reasons for the change, who needs to complete what tasks and the goals, targets and milestones to hit.
  3. Communicate the plan clearly to your staff.
  4. Encourage a culture of change.

By managing change effectively, leaders can help to safeguard their employees and business against future issues.

Navigating the hurdles of organisational change

Let’s face it; change can be a challenge. But by understanding the potential obstacles, you may be able to make the process easier.

Know how to talk numbers

“The first challenge is getting budget and resourcing,” says Wirya. “They’re often regarded as a ‘nice to have’, not a ‘must have’.”

A big reason behind this challenge comes down to return on investment. Companies need to know that the money they’re offering will pay off in the end. Given what we know about the uncertainty humans have around change, it’s easy to see why companies hesitate to invest in something they’re unsure about.

Managers can help to combat this by coming up with a strong change management process that presents exactly what will be done, when it will happen and the intended outcomes.

Having the right leader

Did you know that 70 per cent of change management programs fail due to a lack of managerial support? Having a supportive leader at the helm goes a long way to making the change a success. Who exactly this leader is will depend on the nature of the change, explains Wirya.

“A culture change is best led by a CEO, whereas a technology change should be led by the CTO. It all depends on the type, extent and complexity of the change.”

It’s vital that this leader has the skills to spearhead a change management process. Companies tend to find themselves in hot water when leaders delegate the project to junior managers who don’t have the qualifications or experience to manage change effectively.

Leaders can learn essential change management skills as part of completing an MBA. By learning advanced communication, project management and leadership skills, MBA graduates are well equipped to manage complex change within organisations.

Communication is key

Even with a great change management plan, employees may experience dissatisfaction as their daily routines are disrupted. The key to combating this is communication.

“Communication is a critical part of change,” Wirya explains. “Often, people take shortcuts. They think communicating an idea once, twice or three times is enough, but employees need regular reassurance. This doesn’t mean sending the same email 50 times. It means layering communication using different formats, mediums and approaches.”

This strategic approach to communication is particularly relevant for organisations that have undergone repeated changes. Employees will likely be more resistant if a company has implemented change previously and it hasn’t gone well.

All this comes back to great management skills. By having a thoughtful, skilled and qualified leader managing change, organisations can help to preserve positive workplace culture, productivity and satisfaction.

Excel in change management with an MBA

Change is exciting. When managed correctly, it can transform an organisation for the better.

When you study an MBA, you’ll be able to undergo change management training from industry experts, learning valuable business management skills that will help you oversee complex transitions effectively.

At MBA Discovery, we help you compare some of the best MBA courses in Australia. Enquire today to find out which is right for you.

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