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Change, by its very nature, is tough for individuals. People tend to resist it, prefering the comfort of what is familiar. When an organization decides there is a need to enact a large change, this can come with some hefty challenges for both management and employees. Sometimes even small changes can be met with resistance and create obstacles.

Organizational change can come in many forms. The change may evolve as a new departmental structure, switching to a new kind of computer or phone system, hiring new employees, laying off people, or doing a mass overhaul of task processes - to name just a few.

Why Change at All?

Organizations are generally compelled, or in some cases forced, to initiate change. This often occurs because something isn't working and managerial decision makers feel taking a new direction could improve things. As a result, those in charge typically develop new business strategies to meet a goal.

But change should not be made for the sake of change, there should be a valid reason to invest in it. Reasons could include:

  • Need to increase profitability
  • Confine to new laws
  • Response to coping with budget cuts
  • Increase productivity and/or efficiency
  • Keep up with the market

While modifying a process, policy, computer system or other element of an organization is often necessary, it is seldom easy. Even though the grounds for initiating change may vary, ultimately the same challenges are met with figuring out how to deal with it. And this plays an important part in laying the foundation to make the organizational change.

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Taking a new direction when it comes to organizations, especially large ones, is hard, however, things can go more smoothly when a solid foundation is built.

Laying the Foundation

Whatever the reason or need for change, it's important to establish the basis and prepare everyone for the imminent shift of how things will work. Once the groundwork has been done, and everyone is prepared, the transition to the new modifications will go much more smoothly.

There are a couple of different schools of thought about how to enact change. Some management groups prefer to simply focus on the strategies, make the plan and inform employees after the fact. Other leaders prefer to take an inclusion-based approach, notifying employees as soon as possible and making sure they are well-prepared.

The latter approach has merit, and the reason is because there is a good chance employees are not going to welcome change and any modifications in the organization will likely be met with initial resistance. It is in our nature to not always embrace change. When decision makers take an inclusionary approach to lay the framework, employees are not taken off-guard. It also gives them a chance to digest and accept any upcoming changes.

Why Include Employees?

As a part of laying the foundation for the change, a good approach is to offer open communication and ongoing discussion. Allow for question and answer sessions if necessary, this provides the chance for people to ask questions and give opinions. Additionally, setting an open door policy so people can ask questions or express concerns as they come up. According to a 2010 in the Wall Street Journal, it also helps to discuss difficulties of the past and also acknowledge the uncertainties ahead. 1

Including staff from the get-go also helps explain the need for change and it gives everyone the opportunity to learn how they can play a role in the transformation. Give people tasks, get them involved. By taking this kind of approach to organizational change, people feel a part of the decision-making process and, as a result, higher degrees of comfort and acceptance to the change will be present.

By creating a welcoming type of environment and setting the table for open dialogue to occur, a team-based approach is more strongly established. This tends to reduce employees feeling forced to accept change, even if change is compulsory. Overall, employees will be likely to feel more involved and, subsequently, want to help and make the change succeed.

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People do not like to be dangling not knowing what's ahead. When introducing organizational change, it helps to invest efforts into erasing the veils associated with the unfamiliar.

When the surprise element is removed, this also can typically lessen some resistance. People like to be kept in the proverbial loop and when ongoing communication happens, they'll generally tend to be more accepting. The inclusionary approach will also soften the blow of any drastic alterations. Hopefully organizational change can be gradual to allow everyone time to wade into the proverbial waters; however this is not always possible or, in some cases, not feasible. But where possible, get people used to the idea, implementing the change in stages if possible, making the "unfamiliar comfortable." 2

If possible, as a part of building the foundation for change, make opportunities for any training, seminars or additional explanations that may be necessary.

Trying to enact organizational change has challenges because managers are not dealing with one individual's resistance; they are dealing with multiple groups simultaneously. Lessening the impact of change by keeping employees abreast of imminent change is more likely to have a positive result.

As a leader, it is important to help transition everyone to any kind of organizational change. Even after the changes are accepted by staff, there is still likely going to be degrees of chaos and stress. But by including everyone and keeping them up to date, this type of approach often tends to do a better job of alleviating those issues and, in the long run, make things go more smoothly.

Leading Change, With a New Preface by the Author
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It is often difficult to go "out with the old" and "in with the new" when it comes to organizational change, but including the members of the organization usually increases the level of buy-in and desire to help make things work.