“Change is the only constant in life” is a popular saying first uttered by Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus. We know in both our personal and professional lives that change is certain. Perhaps no one knows it better than a seasoned project manager. No matter how well we’ve planned and thought things out, most project managers know that sometimes, making a change is what’s required in order to get things done.
As certain as change is, so is the fact that many people and organizations are change-averse. Change comes with its challenges, and a ‘one size fits all’ approach to change strategy wouldn’t be effective. Though rarely met with enthusiasm, there are ways to make change easier if you follow some change management best practices.
What is Change Management?
Change management is an organized and systematic approach to effecting change – including transitions or transformations – of an organization and/or project’s goals, processes, and technology. Change management is needed in order to effectively implement change and help people adapt to it. Your change management strategy should include steps to follow – both for the big picture and for all individuals involved – in order to drive the transition(s) and ensure the project meets its intended outcomes.
Change Management Best Practices
Here are seven best practices for a project manager to follow when it comes to implementing change.
Recruit Change Ambassadors
A change in process can be unpredictable and challenging. As we know, lots of folks are change-averse. You’ll want to recruit a number of “change ambassadors” to your team. That is, folks who will help support the process, stay enthusiastic about what’s to come, and keep things running smoothly while the change takes effect. Your change ambassadors can take your vision of the future and articulate it to others in the organization. These ambassadors should have:
- Outgoing personalities and be widely respected among their peers;
- Strong communication skills;
- Capability and willingness to collaborate with stakeholders and team members alike; and
- The ability to keep team members engaged and on-board with what’s to come.
Put a Positive Spin on it
Perhaps the most important part of change management is getting buy-in from everyone: stakeholders and team members alike. It’s important to remember that people’s capacity to change can be influenced by how it is presented to them. When explaining the need for change, put a positive spin on it and ensure that everyone understands why the change is needed. People’s willingness to adapt to and support change can diminish if they don’t understand the reason for it. This can bring about more headaches than you’d like. When people understand the reasons behind the change, they are more likely to participate in it willingly and work to make sure that it is successfully carried out, which in turn means minimal disruption to the organization and project.
Articulate the Benefits
It may seem to be an obvious fact, but it is important to make sure everyone involved in the project knows exactly why the change is needed and why it is relevant – to them as individuals, to the life of the project, and for the organization. Present the big picture to everyone by outlining the project’s goals and illustrating how the change will help reach these goals.
When speaking to your team members one on one, be sure to break down the benefits of the change as it applies to them as individuals. For example, more efficient software will benefit them because they can spend less time on paperwork and more time completing tasks.
Communicate the Change on All Levels
When you hear a change is coming, do you prefer to get the news through the grapevine or from leadership? Most people prefer to hear it from the folks at the top or their direct manager, rather than through the gossip mill where they’d be trying to piece it all together. Make sure the Project Sponsor (and/or you as the PM) are the ones to communicate the change and its necessity to everyone from the most important stakeholders to the folks doing administrative work. Team members should also be given the opportunity to meet with and discuss the change and what is expected of them with their direct supervisor.
Employees tend to resist change more when it is sudden or they have little time to adjust. It’s important to share upcoming change information as soon as you are able. If possible, roll out the change in incremental steps to avoid major upset. Be mindful of your timing in regards to the calendar too – try not to implement change during a time of the year that is busy for your organization, like when your team members are under pressure at year end or during the holiday season, for example.
Check-in with Your Team
Regularly meet with everyone – your change ambassadors, your stakeholders, and your other team members – so they can provide feedback on the change. When everyone has a stake in the ‘game’, so to speak, and feels heard, they are more likely to adapt more quickly to the change. When you have all members weighing in and providing feedback, you can more quickly identify what is working and what isn’t. That way if you run into any issues, you can correct it as quickly as possible, before it sours the working environment and possibly the whole project.
Patience is a Virtue
Change doesn’t happen overnight…or in one workday, as the case may be. If you want your team to learn a new way of doing things, you need to give them time to let go of the old and learn how to function under a new mode of operation. You can do this by thoroughly explaining what doesn’t work when it comes to the old way, and sharing how the new change will improve things. This will – hopefully – make everyone’s work lives easier.
Don’t expect your employees to adjust to the change right away. Make it clear that there is a learning curve, and that you are open to any questions or suggestions they have. Just as you are asking them to be flexible and open-minded, you need to remain the same. Even if that makes taking a slightly different route than you’d originally intended.
Successful change management can pave a path to a better future for the duration of your project. Start with your vision, communicate it with your team and stakeholders, and then get started. Change isn’t easy, but it’s almost always worth it.
Do you have any change management strategies or tips to share? Let us know in the comments!