As naturalist Charles Darwin wrote in his seminal work, On The Origin of Species, “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”
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 in the workplace. 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 Master of Business Administration program at Washington State University can help prepare students for a range of high-level decision-making responsibilities, including how to be leaders of change within their organizations.
What Is Operational Change and Change Management?
Operational change and change management can be treated as two separate concepts. The former represents the proactive actions, measures, or maneuvers a company takes to improve operational performance or gain a competitive edge within its industry. It’s a process that typically aims to resolve vulnerabilities or inefficiencies that may be hindering an organization’s ability to optimize its growth and stability strategies.
Change management, on the other hand, represents the approach an organization takes to apply operational change. This process governs change in a proactive manner, so that any transitions can occur smoothly and without disruption. This approach can help alleviate workers’ feelings of stress or concern as a result of any changes, whether they’re at the organizational or departmental level.
Both operational change and change management share the same mission: to ensure any changes that impact operations proceed smoothly from start to finish. Skilled business leaders can guide an organization toward realizing this mission, so that the changes implemented deliver the intended effect.
Preparing for Changes Ahead
While no single methodology works for every organization, below are four basic principles executives should keep in mind when executing an operational change management strategy.
1. Change Affects People
It’s common to refer to “stakeholders” in change management scenarios. Yet it’s important to remember that the word is a placeholder for the actual people potentially affected by the change, including employees. 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. At this phase, 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 could be a hidden agenda.
Typically, employees who are comfortable with the current operation don’t see the need to adjust practices. Executives need to bear this in mind should they encounter resistance, as it will help govern other principles of the change management process.
2. “Why” Is Important
A crucial aspect of managing change in the workplace is explaining why the process being changed is in need of change. This understanding is particularly important when dealing with those that are resistant to change.
As such, it’s vital that executives have a clear understanding of the driving factors and benefits behind the change, as well as what transformations must be made to execute it. What’s more, they need to be able to articulate it clearly to employees without any vagueness or ambiguity. A lack of clarity when breaking down the “why” of change may make it difficult for naysayers to warm up to the idea.
3. Prepare for an Adjustment Period
Even the best and most beneficial change strategies don’t happen overnight. Every transition takes some time to lock in completely. At the same time, even the most talented employees may not completely grasp a change and all of its nuances. Executives should prepare for this, and the best way to do this is to allow for an adjustment period until all stakeholders become comfortable with the change, to the point where it becomes routine.
This is a period that can be developed proactively. Executives can set up training sessions that allow employees to acclimate to the change and its elements. In some cases, this may involve tweaking organizational structure to allow the transformation to occur more organically.
4. Continuously Assess, Review, and Adapt
Operational 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 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 because executives may focus on implementing a rigid transformation structure without room for adaptability. This ignores the potential for changes in the business landscape. With tech-driven strategies such as data analytics becoming increasingly important, baking in flexibility to any business transformation is particularly vital. Doing so can spell the difference between an effective and an ineffective transformation.
Learn How to Lead Operational Change
Change is inevitable, and executives may be called on to manage change in the workplace. Successful professionals approach the change process with a full understanding of the reasons for the change, are mindful of its impact on employees, and allow room for flexibility. This approach can guide their companies through changes large and small with great effectiveness.
Washington State University’s Online Executive MBA Program offers students the opportunity to further hone 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.
Learn how the program can prepare you to make a difference in the ever-changing business landscape.