Change is the one constant element that must be faced by anyone with the responsibility to run or be part of a business. It is the most exciting and most terrifying item that a manager must handle. How one approaches this managerial challenge will determine the quality of the product produced, and the managers perception as a leader.
It must get produced with higher quality. It must be produced cheaply. It needs to require less resource. Oh, and by the way, one of your best people has just been wooed away by an Internet startup, promising vast riches with an upcoming IPO and the promise of wearing jeans and a t-shirt to work.
Just another day at the office, isn’t it? It seems that every day we must deal with change; some of this change is generated by business initiatives, some by the unexpected personnel, technology or swift market changes that are characteristic of the new economy.
Changing approaches, procedures, organisations, tactical and/or strategic directions are a pivotal part of the work of managers today. Whether or not you’re creating those transformations, or reacting to them, your success as a manager depends on your ability to process, communicate and handle the questions and doubts that come with change. Taking a structured approach to thinking through change will help you and your employees navigate swiftly.
The successful manager articulates understandable objectives and delineates them through clear, succinct and measurable goals. The astute manager also understands not only what the actual change itself implies, but the long term ramifications to the business you run, as well as all of the individuals within the business. The implications and feelings the change will create in the hearts and minds of employees must be understood if the manager is to successfully communicate, and be able to empathetically listen to the affected employees. Lastly, the manager who consistently navigates through change understands what will follow the current change in process; what does it enable, or restrict in future opportunities. We will explore the three elements of change management we have discussed thus far in greater detail. The key to all of these elements of change is to seek to make the unknown – the puzzlement and doubt that accompanies something new – known.
A Goal to Describe the Results
“Why?” is the first question each manager must answer for himself and his employees. “Why?” is a person’s ultimate expression that something is not known or understood. Without the answer or answers to this, any change will flounder and the scrutiny of employees and supervisors will inevitably follow. Your attitude about the change will show with your employees, your buy-in and ability to make the unknown known is fundamental. Fully understanding the motivations behind any change encountered, or creating and communicating the motivations behind the change you are sponsoring, in a supportive (and if appropriate collaborative) way, is paramount.
Closely tied to this is the ability to establish and communicate goals. Well-articulated goals will describe the direction and objectives of the organisation you are managing; change as part of a pathway to those goals will most likely not require extensive additional selling. Well-described goals will bring the action steps toward those goals into the “known” quickly and easily. Employees who understand that their actions and efforts to facilitate change will lead to a positive result will embrace them much more quickly. If the result is known, the actions proposed to get there will become known in the minds of your employees. The dreaded realm of the unknown will be avoided!
The Meaning of the Change
“What will I have to do?” will quickly follow “Why?” into the minds of employees. Understanding your employees strengths and weaknesses, both in actuality and in their self perception, is critical here. The question “What will I have to do?” is what is usually expressed verbally; the real question underneath that outward expression is “Will I be able to do this?” and/or “Will I enjoy doing this?” A manager that can lead their employees on the pathway out of this unknown quickly and directly will get buy-in and true action from their employees sooner, leading to a more sound and timely implementation. In fact, when dealing with the known in this way, employee enhancements to the change can surface, enhancing the overall result.
Managers need to be mindful of both the immediate and ongoing meaning of the proposed change from the employee’s point of view. What may be perceived as a simple change today – one that the manager brings into the realm of the known – may still contain unknown elements. “Does this mean that…?” questions are the key to an employee expression that there remain elements of the change that are “unknown”. These questions should also trigger a review of the organisations goals by the manager. Are they clear? Have they been described in sufficient detail to the employees? Does this particular employee understand the direction of the department? A manager needs to assess each affected employees ability to handle the change, both short and long term, and guide and support them into the realm of the known.
What’s Next ?
When a manager starts hearing questions from his employees about what change is coming up next, this is an indication that the change is “catching on”. However, this can be the most difficult part of managing change. First and foremost, can you as a manager answer this question? If you cannot, then you need to be brought out from the dungeon of the unknown! Without this, you cannot guide and nurture the success of your employees. On the other hand, if you do know the answer to the “What’s next?” question, maybe this stage in the journey from the unknown to the known is best addressed with questions, rather than answers. Questions like, “What do you think we should do next?”, “Do you have any ideas as to how we can reach our goals more quickly?” or “Can you lead us through the next part of our change journey?” can have a profound affect. Soliciting this input from your employees can alter the nature of where change originates. Rare is the senior manager that fully understands the elements of what each employee does in performing his/her job. Having senior management set goals, and having employees – driven and guided by knowledgeable managers – implement changes in reaching those goals is the greatest pathway to success.
This type of situation is the greatest way to manage the journey from the unknown to the known. Employees with a detailed understanding of the goals at hand, empowered with the capability to think for themselves, working together in cohesive teams, can nearly assure a manager of success in implementing change. In this environment, the journey to the known is designed by the very folks that need to reach this promised land. In fact, they become “Creators of the known.”
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