Purposeful Talent Development: 10 Steps to Effective Change Management – Part 1

butterfly metamorphosis
Lesley Sears Photo
VP/Consulting Services

5 minutes

Master change management with these essential steps for effective leadership.

In the rapidly evolving financial services industry, every leader needs to be proficient in guiding their organization and people through change. However, in my work with credit unions, I have found change management to be one of the most overlooked and undervalued leadership skills. The lack of a strategic approach often dooms important change initiatives to failure. 

The good news is that leaders can improve their change management skills by becoming more systematic in their approach. Effectively managing every element of a change project greatly increases the chances of achieving and sustaining the change you desire, both operationally and within the team’s behavior. 

I’ve identified 10 key steps to guide you through effective change management. Whether you’re managing a structural, operational, technological, personnel or cultural change, the steps are essentially the same. 

This month, we’ll cover the first five steps. In part 2 of this article next month, we’ll address the remaining five steps.

1.    Answer Your “Why” Questions

When embarking on a change, start by answering the “why” questions. Your “why” questions will help assess the current state of your processes and practices to identify inadequacies that are holding your organization back. Perhaps you’re hoping to correct inefficiencies in your current processes and practices. Or perhaps you’re concerned about market changes that will put you at a competitive disadvantage if you don’t adapt. Use your “why” questions to identify those problems and determine how pursuing a potential change will benefit your organization. 

One of the most important questions you can answer for employees is W.I.I.F.M.—What’s in it for me? Large-scale change can be scary—honestly, most change is scary—so it’s important to assuage those fears by helping employees understand how change will impact them personally and how it will ultimately help the organization. Help them identify how they will benefit from the change.

2.    Leaders Have to Lead

Successful change projects require the commitment and visible support of senior leadership. Assign a dedicated sponsor or committee to champion the change, but make sure you gain buy-in from all leaders in the organization to provide their support as well.

The level of leadership involved in the change depends upon the scope and impact on the organization. If it’s an organization-wide change, the CEO should be championing and role-modeling the change.  For department-level change, the head of the department should be proactively guiding the change. 

Whatever leaders are involved, make sure you provide them with the necessary information, training and resources to manage the change effectively. 

3.    Create a Plan

Recognizing the need for change is not enough. You must create a detailed plan to achieve it. Too often, I’ve seen organizations in such an all-fired hurry to implement change that they don’t do any preparation at all. There’s no written plan, no timeline, no benefits statement, and no leadership getting out in front of the change. That is the kiss of death. There’s very little chance that a change implemented in this fashion will be effective for very long. You might get it to work for a minute, but the stickability of this type of knee-jerk change is extremely low. 

When undertaking change, create a step-by-step plan that includes the following:

  • Assign roles and responsibilities for each task.
  • Conduct a current state SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.
  • Define objectives and goals—measure when possible (and it’s almost ALWAYS possible).
  • Identify all stakeholders affected by the change.
  • Plan for risks: Identify potential obstacles and develop mitigation strategies.

4.    Secure Employee Buy-in

No change project will succeed if you don’t get buy-in from the employees who are crucial to implementing it. That’s why I stress the need to involve employees early and often. Throughout the change process, keep talking to them and including them to gain their insights and foster ownership.

You can achieve greater buy-in by regularly asking employees questions that tie back to W.I.I.F.M., such as: “How can we connect with this change? What will this change mean for you? How will it impact your daily routine? How will it make your work easier?” The goal is to help employees reach a mindset in which they can identify how the change is going to empower them while also benefiting the organization. They must understand how much you appreciate and need their input and insight to achieve successful change.

Here are several additional ways that you can solicit employee involvement in the change project:

  • Include them in the planning process to gain insights and foster ownership.
  • Create cross-functional teams to ensure that you’re hearing from diverse perspectives. 
  • Schedule regular buy-in activities such as workshops, focus groups and brainstorming sessions to keep engagement high.
  • Continuously gather stakeholder feedback to implement into the change process.

5.    Develop a Communication Plan

A comprehensive communication plan goes hand in hand with employment buy-in. How do you expect employees to get excited about the change if they don’t know what’s going on? Be proactive in providing information to keep your employees in the loop. Ensure their input is driving the change. They know the business best. Ask for their help.

Use multiple channels to connect with different audiences. Don’t rely strictly on written communications. Leaders need to verbally communicate the “why” behind the change. Guide employees to connect with project benefits and potential challenges. And make sure you provide venues for feedback. Just as important as it is to ask employees questions, it’s important to give them the opportunity to ask questions of you.

Following these first five steps will help ensure your success in the initial steps of your change management plan. Check back for next month’s blog post to read about five additional steps for ensuring successful change implementation.

Stepping into the gap between corporate complacency and organizational excellence is where Lesley Sears strives to be. Now VP/consulting services for CUES. In her role at CUES, Lesley leads CUES Consulting, which provides talent strategy support to credit unions of all sizes. Lesley is passionate about helping leaders find their company’s superpowers in talent development through a holistic approach: identify–develop–document-repeat. She’s a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, a certified executive leadership coach and has over 20 years of experience consulting with organizations across many industries to strategically develop their talent’s best selves. When she’s not working to help organizations maximize their potential, you can find her digging in her flower beds, reading or watching classic movies. Maybe, on a good morning in the spring and fall, you’ll find her running—really slowly.

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