As naturalist Charles Darwin wrote in his seminal work, On The Origin of Species, survival goes not to the strongest of the species, nor to the smartest, but to those best able to adapt to changing conditions.
Although Darwin’s subject was the natural world, the principles he described apply to today’s modern corporations. Change is inevitable, and the organizations that thrive are those that can adjust and even flourish when events don’t go according to plan, or when the plan itself calls for a departure from the status quo.
At the corporate level, executives are responsible for managing change. They need to be able to visualize not only the steps involved in the process, but also how change may affect personnel, shareholders, competitors, and even regional or national markets.
The online Executive MBA program at Washington State University can help prepare students for a range of high-level decision-making responsibilities, including ways to be leaders of change within their organizations.
Preparing For Changes Ahead
While no single methodology works for every organization, below are four basic principles executives should keep in mind when leading operational change:
1. Change Affects People.
People are at the forefront of transformation. Some employees will embrace the change process, but others will feel unsettled and uncertain, which could potentially lead to resistance. Thus, change can be a significant cause of stress, and when people feel stressed, company morale may suffer.
Leaders should address employees’ fears, feelings, and emotions early in the process, according to the Strategy+Business article, “Ten Principles of Change Management.”
“Dealing with these issues on a reactive, case-by-case basis puts speed, morale, and results at risk,” the article noted. “A formal approach for managing change — beginning with the leadership team and then engaging key stakeholders and leaders — should be developed early, and adapted often as change moves through the organization.”
Change managers should also keep in mind that the process affects unique parties differently. Top executives may be enthusiastic while middle management may be wary and assume there is a hidden agenda.
Typically, employees who are comfortable with the current operation do not see the need to adjust practices – which is why executives should grasp the “why” behind the change.
2. “Why” Is Important.
An important question executives need to ask themselves at the beginning of the change process, according to Jason Piatt, president of Praestar Technology Corp. in his article, “8 Steps to Proper Operation Change Process” in Industry Week, is regarding why the process being changed is in its current state.
“All too often, we see individuals try to drive change without understanding what caused the process to become the way it is,” he wrote. “It is a sign of lazy analytics if the change proposer assumes the process is flawed because individuals who designed it were lacking in process design knowledge. Perhaps the changes we seek are only possible because of new technology or a change in suppliers. Regardless of the reasons, we need to understand the lineage of the process to avoid past mistakes.”
Once change leaders understand the background and reason for the change, they can identify what transformations need to be made and articulate the process clearly and concisely. In spite of this communication, even best plans may not run smoothly.
3. Prepare For “Change Fatigue.”
About 54 percent of major change initiatives succeed, according to a recent Strategy&/Katzenbach Center executive survey cited in “10 Principles of Leading Change Management” by Strategy+Business authors DeAnne Aguirre and Micah Alpern.
The biggest reason for change initiatives’ failure, they write, is change fatigue, “the exhaustion that sets in when people feel pressured to make too many transitions at once. A full 65 percent of respondents to the Katzenbach Center survey reported this as a problem. The change initiatives they encountered may have been poorly thought through, rolled out too fast, or put in place without sufficient preparation. Fatigue is a familiar problem in organizational change management, especially when splashy ‘whole new day’ initiatives are driven from the top.”
Ways to strengthen the change process in order to avoid “change fatigue” include: paying attention to company culture, listening to and valuing feedback from midlevel and frontline employees as well as others at all levels of the organization, and performing ongoing assessments.
4. Continuously Assess, Review and Adapt.
Organizational change needs to be nurtured as it progresses. For that, change managers need feedback. They can talk with people individually, hold discussion sessions, or use surveys and questionnaires to gauge how well people are understanding and adapting to the new processes. Using the feedback they receive, they can assess how the change is going and make any adjustments necessary to ensure that the company stays on track for its goals. Feedback can also help determine whether changes need to be made in either the plan or the process.
Many change efforts fail, Aguirre and Alpern write, “because leaders are so eager to claim victory that they don’t take the time to find out what’s working and what’s not, and to adjust their next steps accordingly. This failure to follow through results in inconsistency and deprives the organization of needed information about how to support the process of change throughout its life cycle.”
Change is inevitable, and executives may be called on to guide their organizations through periods of transformation. An Executive MBA from Washington State University can prepare graduates to be top-level leaders equipped to guide their companies in becoming adaptable to the current business environment and sustainable as well.
Washington State University’s EMBA Degree Program
The online Executive MBA Program at Washington State University offers students the opportunity to further train their knowledge and skills to rise to the top of their industry and become influential business leaders. Coursework includes managerial leadership and productivity, organizational design, and management of innovation. Visit the Washington State EMBA website for more information.
Strategy + Business