First, the good news: We no longer have to convince people that “change is the only constant.” We are all well aware that the processes and technology we’re using today will change, and probably soon.
Now, the bad news: Understanding that change is inevitable doesn’t make its easy, and it doesn’t make us good at it.Change has become so pervasive that it has given rise to a new field of study and – change management. The art and science of change management, of course, is constantly changing! By sticking to some proven fundamentals, however, we can implement changes efficiently and without disrupting team unity; in fact, an effective change process can make your team chemistry stronger.
Frontload the project
When charged with implementing a new process or system, align your team early in the process. For example, if you will be implementing new workflow software, make sure you have input from employees at all affected levels, especially those who are customer-facing. When possible, do this before deciding which software to purchase or build.
In the words of Stephen Covey, “Begin with the end in mind.” Establish a clear vision of the desired destination. What will our processes look like once you have implemented this new workflow system? Have team discussions openly, such as in brainstorming sessions. If practical, take planning sessions off-site, to an environment conducive to relaxed and productive collaboration.
It is worth the investment to get buy-in, map the change process, and utilize the talents and knowledge around you to build a shared vision. From that shared vision, develop a comprehensive project plan with dates, goals and milestones.
Lead the team through the Valley of Despair
According to Six Sigma doctrine, during a six-month process improvement project, morale goes through the following phases: optimism, frustration, determination and success. Change management gurus have named the low point of the process the Valley of Despair.
It is important to acknowledge to your team that they will likely have to go through the Valley of Despair. The worst thing a project leader can do is tell the team there is no reason to be stressed. While meant to reassure them, failing to validate frustration from employees is dismissive and erodes trust – trust you will need to get the best results with the least disruption. Remind the team that you’ll all be going through the process together. Continue to illicit input from the team about ways to lighten and shorten the trip through the Valley.
Communicate and celebrate
Give employees regular updates on the project. Going too long without updates can slow momentum or create fear. Employees will wonder why things have gone quiet and may worry that the change will create inefficiencies that jeopardize their jobs. When kept in the dark, people will generally fear something worse than the reality.
Even if there has been little progress since the last check-in, give the update. Explain why the project hasn’t moved forward during the timeframe, and provide the expected time for the next deliverable.
Finally, celebrate milestones. Projects that take several months will have ups and downs. Celebrate small and large steps in the process with short gatherings for treats or stand-up meetings to recognize individuals and teams that contributed to the milestone.
Train employees on new processes and technology
With diligence in the previous steps, training is the easy part. By the time you launch, employees will have internalized the bulk of what they need to know. Still, create a training plan with buy-in from the team, and follow through on the training. Identify super-users to help others during the transition. Make sure employees are able to practice the new processes and technology hands-on and that they understand the context behind it.
Prepare for success
According to Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
By involving employees early in the change process, creating a unified vision and using the process as a teambuilding opportunity, you will build a foundation of trust. Frontload the project by setting specific goals and developing a detailed yet flexible implementation plan.
Prepare for the likelihood that those affected by the project will surely face tough challenges along the way. Communicate regularly and openly throughout the project, and celebrate milestones. If you do these things, your team will emerge from the Valley of Despair and achieve the goals you developed as a team.