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Change management: more than an afterthought

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Little has improved in change management practices since 2013 when a Gallup report announced that 70% of change initiatives fail. Yet, change management is more critical than ever as business models are subjected to constant disruption.
According to Basetsana Magano, a strategic change management specialist and coach at Onpro Consulting, the cause for failed change management initiatives is not poor methodology. “The problem is attitude,” says Magano. “If companies don’t adapt their fundamental approach to change management, they will always struggle.”
Magano identifies several errors in thinking, and offers helpful advice:
* Failing to develop a change strategy up front. “You can’t plan for change while it’s in progress. Companies tend to do change management as an afterthought and run the process parallel to the actual change. It is critical to develop a sound strategy beforehand, to smooth the transition.”
* Engaging stakeholders too late. “Stakeholders, like subject matter experts and change champions, must be identified and brought into discussions as early as possible. Get total buy-in by involving them from the start as they’re the ones implementing the change.”
* Not communicating the change early enough. “People don’t like change. So if they don’t understand it, they’re going to resist. Handle resistance by clearly communicating the whys and benefits of the change before it happens.”
* Using line managers as messengers. “Excitement built in boardroom meetings must be contagious. But line managers are usually briefed in a short workshop, after which they’re tasked with implementation on the front lines. We must listen and respond to their concerns, and build the same excitement in them. Otherwise, instead of evangelising the process for us, they’ll just pass the word on because that’s their job.”
* Not handling soft issues. “Having facilitated many change workshops with managers and staff, I know that 80% of the discussions are around personal issues and fears that take precedence over the change process. Only once those issues are resolved can we move forward.”
* Not building a culture open to change. “Don’t avoid criticism from workers or dissuade those who identify valid risks. Instead, engage them openly, listen sincerely, offer information and sell the benefits. Eventually, they’ll conclude for themselves that the change is necessary and beneficial. Skipping this step to save time will inevitably result in resistance and delays.”
* Manning the change team with “yes” people. “Get your loudest critics on your change team. I promise you’ll resolve 80% of your workforce’s issues before you even start implementing. Also, they’re often looked up to, so you’ll have won over major influencers.”
* Engaging unqualified consultants. “Some technical companies offer change management but do little more than handholding and weekly updates. Change consultants must have exceptional qualifications, technical competence and emotional intelligence. People skills are vital.”
* Seeing change as a temporary event. “Change doesn’t start and end – it’s ongoing. So change management should be a core competency and part of the organisational culture. If we reward those who identify opportunities for positive change, we make it something to be embraced and not feared.”

“When companies approach change with the right attitude, success is assured,” says Magano.