Keeping productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness high requires proactive effort in all three areas. It also requires constant change as you learn and fine tune your systems. This change, if not managed through good leadership principles, will not last long term, as people tend to revert to old habits over time. Eventually, anything you changed will be back to “the way it was” and you will have wasted time and energy trying to make improvements.
Change isn’t Easy
Change is hard, and people are creatures of habit. Most change will undo itself over time and people will go back to what they’ve always done. This happens even when changes are good for us. Think about how many people set great New Year’s resolutions with all sorts of positive benefits. They start out strong, keeping their resolution for the first few weeks of January, but, over time, old habits start to creep back in. Soon the resolution and the changes required to make it a reality are out the window and people are fully back into their old ways.
Change related to making productivity, efficiency, and effectives is no different. We want to change and set goals to do so. We take initial steps to do things differently, and everyone is on board with the changes. We commit to making the new change stick and do a great job for a few weeks. Then, we have a hard day or week. The changes still take extra effort to do, because they aren’t yet engrained in our minds. That extra work becomes a burden and we decide to “just do it the way we used to” for a day, just like we decide to not do our new exercise routine for just a day.
Then one day becomes two, and two becomes three. Days become weeks and soon we have forgotten why we wanted to change, and we revert to the old way of doing things.
People are also resistant to change. If you have employees or team members you are managing, some might not be supportive of the change from the start. If they are not on board, they will not work as hard to understand and adapt the new changes. They might even work consciously or subconsciously against the change. Neither of these scenarios is good for the long-term adoption of the change.
Leadership’s role in managing change is to help those you lead understand the change and embrace it in a way that will make the change last.
There is an entire discipline and jobs that are completely dedicated to managing change at organizations. Fortunately, you can learn a few key principles and lead yourself and others proactively through changes which will greatly increase your odds of making changes that last.
Change is Important
Technology has changed many things about the way we live and work, including the pace of change we need to adopt to be successful. There are always new tools and new systems coming out that alter the business that we’re in. There are new regulations, competition, ways of doing business, etc. that can all impact our own systems and processes. Keeping up with change is becoming critical for modern businesses.
This isn’t to say you want to go out and adopt every new thing that hits the market. You want to be thoughtful about what you change and when you change it and NOT change things just for the sake of change or in some mad race to keep up with everything. That being said, there will be many times when you will need to change because of technology, market shifts, changing Customer demands, and more.
Having tools to manage change will make it easier to handle and keep your organization performing well with high adoption and longevity of any changes that you do make.
Change Impact Analysis
As a leader managing change, the first thing you can do is a change impact analysis. While this might sound fancy, it’s fairly common sense and easy to do. A change impact analysis involves thinking about the change you are going to make and identifying who is going to be impacted by the change. If you’ve already done a stakeholder assessment, you’ve already thought through who will be impacted by the change.
For a solo entrepreneur, or a small team, this could be a short list, but consider everyone that might be impacted by the change including vendors, partners, and Customers.
Think about the system that is changing, who is providing inputs, and who is receiving outputs. Those providing inputs might need to change what they’re providing and those receiving outputs might start receiving something different. Also consider those doing any process steps or those managing systems that are automating the system.
Depending on the size and possible impact of the change, it might be worth doing some extra work to identify potential risks or problems that could occur because of the change. This will have you better prepared in case you run into problems. This will help mitigate the negative impact on stakeholders’ opinions of the change and help keep positive opinions. The FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis) is a great tool to use for this type of activity.
Involve People Early and Often
One of the worst things you can do is surprise people with changes. It’s best to include those that will be impacted early and often in any change discussions. This will give them the opportunity to voice opinions and feel more like they are a part of the change instead of the change being something that happens to them.
Of course there is a risk that inviting impacted people to share their opinions will lead to conflict and disagreements, but it’s better to get those out of the way earlier rather than waiting until the last minute.
Engage with People on Their Concerns
Don’t just ignore concerns that are brought up that don’t align to your vision of the change. As a leader, work to understand the concerns and understand why people are concerned the way they are. It’s important to have an open dialog and make people feel safe in sharing their thoughts and ideas, especially when they are contrary to your own. Allow them to share and don’t be quick to judge or dismiss others’ ideas.
Be sure to give others credit for ideas they interject into the change. The more others feel like their input was considered, the more invested they will be in making sure the change is successful.
Document the Benefits of the Change
Take the time to document the reasons for the changes and the additional value that it will bring to the system and its beneficiaries. This doesn’t need to be fancy or formal documentation; the main purpose of documenting it is to get comfortable with it so you can explain it to others.
Be open with those impacted by the changes in explaining to them the reasons the changes are important. Be sure to think about it from the perspective of the different impacted parties and not just your viewpoint. For example, if you are automating a part of a scheduling system that will reduce the time your assistant spends scheduling appointments, be comfortable talking about the change in a way that will resonate with your assistant.
You don’t want to talk so much about saving overhead costs because your assistant is less concerned about overhead costs. Focus more on the benefit to the assistant – he won’t have to spend hours doing scheduling work he finds boring anyway and will be able to spend more time doing activities that he finds more engaging and fulfilling.
Related to both engaging on concerns and communicating with stakeholders, it’s important to anticipate negative thoughts that others might have and have good talking points to address these thoughts.
For example, it is common for employees to feel concerned when automation of tasks is happening. People will often feel like their jobs are in danger and they will have real concerns that will influence their behavior. By being sensitive to this and addressing it proactively, you’ll be able to ease the employee’s concerns and get their mindset right to take on the changes with excitement instead of dread.
Let Team Members Take Ownership
Similar to hearing others’ concerns and giving them credit for their ideas, the more others can own a piece of the change, the more invested they will feel and the more they will want the change to stick around. Think about your system or systems that you are going to change and break it up into sub-systems. If you’ve got other people involved in your system, have them own the changes related to their responsibilities. Have them help define the changes needed as well as documenting the new way the system will work.
Another important part to leadership’s role in managing change is to communicate regularly to those that will be impacted. It requires the change impact analysis so that you understand who will be impacted. Once you do understand the people impacted, communicate regularly with them on progress of the changes before they are made, while they’re being made, and after they are made. The more you can communicate (within reason) the better.
A RACI diagram would be helpful in managing communications with everyone that is impacted by the change. The RACI should be completed before any changes are planned and updated along the way to ensure you are communicating with the right stakeholders.
Identify Metrics to Track Change Adoption
After a change has been implemented, you can track metrics that show you if the change is sticking or if you’re returning to old habits. This might look different for each change you enact, but it’s the most effective way to monitor changes after they are put in place.
Think about the changes you’re making and think about how you might use data to track the outputs related to the change. For example, if you are adding new fields to your CRM system that you want your team to start filling out, you could put a simple report in place to track new entries into the CRM and how often those fields are filled in. This will tell you if the new fields are being used, and you can make adjustments with the team or remind them about the purpose/need for the fields if they start slipping.
By following these actions and embracing leadership’s role in managing change, you’ll have a much better chance of implementing changes to your systems and processes that will be impactful and long lasting!