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Change management: 3 outdated ideas that could hold you back

The pandemic taught us (and the organizations we lead) that we are agile – adaptable to change, innovative, and able to make things happen quickly. The demand for legacy systems to be replaced by digital ones reached the enterprise at a breakneck pace as COVID-19 uprooted the way we live and work.

Beyond digital transformation, the last 18 months have likely uncovered other vulnerabilities in your business model. Perhaps you need to change the way you hire to keep up in the race for qualified talent. Or maybe your company needs a culture overhaul as you transition to a hybrid work model.

Whatever your situation, the pace of change is not slowing, so it’s important to consider how you will lead your organization through it. Here are three outdated misconceptions about change management and how to address them:

Misconception 1: Change management requires a perfect plan to start

Prior to COVID-19, many organizations got caught in the planning trap. The idea that you should write and revise the blueprints for change until you’ve found a solution that serves everyone is great in theory, but in practice, it can leave you unprepared.

[ Want more advice on change management? Read How to help your team embrace risk. ] 

Instead of laying out a step-by-step process, ensure that your executive team is aligned on the intended outcomes. Identify what is important to maintain the integrity of your business’s identity as you scale. A macro-level plan leaves room to adjust and adapt—two things necessary in even the best-laid plans.

When it comes to change of any kind, the hardest step is the first one. Move to execute knowing that discomfort is inevitable. In change management, perfect is the enemy of good.

Misconception 2: Change comes exclusively from the top down

While it is important that the C-suite is aligned on the goals and objectives of organization-wide change, it is impossible to mandate adoption without employee buy-in. Natural resistance is normal, particularly in large companies that have been operating the same way for decades.

Miscommunication is among the biggest barriers to change. Make a point to include your teams as early in the change process as possible. Let them know the expected timeline, what it will require of them, and how it may disrupt their workflow. When you quantify the impact of the change, you will likely receive more willingness to comply.

Welcome feedback and take a risk by being vulnerable – let your organization know that change is difficult for you too.

Also, consider how to incorporate your managerial level employees into the change leadership fold. If your organization is large enough that your lower-level employees rarely get face time with the executive leadership, your managers can be an important bridge between employees to build trust and support for your initiatives. Welcome feedback and take a risk by being vulnerable – let your organization know that change is difficult for you too.

Misconception 3: A traditional approach is most effective

According to this Harvard Business Review article, a two-channel system, once necessary for our survival, is responsible for our response to change. A traditional approach to change may stir up feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear, pushing your teams into survival mode and making them resistant to the change. However, a change philosophy with the goal of generating feelings of excitement and opportunity can elicit a positive response from your organization.

A conventional approach to change often centers around budgets and timelines – non-negotiables that can add stress to your team’s already full plates. When you inundate your employees with report after report detailing how much further you have to go, transformation can seem much more daunting. Be selective about what you share while also mitigating uncertainty.

Celebrate the day-to-day victories achieved by your adapting teams. Though it may seem trivial, it reassures your employees that this change is for good. Focus on the opportunities for innovation that your transformation creates. Effectively, you reinforce that your teams are on this journey with you, not dragging behind it.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

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