Learn about Change to Learn to Change!
To quote Heraclitus: “The Only Constant in Life Is Change”. This is a proverb that we have most probably all heard numerous times. The pace of changes happening in society and the business world is increasing rapidly and to remain competitive we need to be open to adapt and constantly increase our capacity to change. This is where leaders and project managers often go wrong, as a transformation is not purely mechanical with a one-way-fits-all solution.
The question is what is change really about? And is it learnable?
What is Change?
Change is induced when a gap between the current state and the desired future state of the organisation is recognised.
It can be due to a change in laws, regulations or standards. For example, the GDPR regulation, which has had an impact on all organisations that have had to review their procedures for collecting, storing and using people’s data. Not to mention everything to do with ISO standards or accreditations, which are subject to substantial change thus impacting all levels within a company.
Another reason for change may be due to pressure from consumers, competitors or markets in general. In order to respond appropriately, a company must reorient its strategy, which may require employees to reposition themselves within teams, acquire new skills, etc.
An example of a company that did not manage this well is KODAK. Despite employees being at the forefront of innovation, management failed to adapt to the wave of digital photography and ever since the company has paid the price heavily, finally ending in bankruptcy.
Another reason for change is also linked to the example of KODAK, namely the rapid development of technology & processes. With the progress of digitalisation across many sectors, companies are forced to invest in and implement new programs, such as ERP, CRM, etc. Once again, such digitalisation requires employees to adapt their way of thinking and working and they are often also expected to acquire new skills.
A fourth example can be with respect to a merger, acquisition or relocation that leads to substantial changes within one or two companies. In such a case, strategy and vision, as well as workflows and processes, will need to be reviewed and adapted.
While the above-mentioned examples are not exhaustive, they all have one thing in common. In each change project there is also a cultural and human component to consider, which plays a significant role in all change projects.
In the last example (merger & acquisition) the cultural aspect of value systems, identification with the workplace and human interactions between individuals and within teams plays a major role.
This leads us to the fact that despite most focus often being on technical aspects, in the end change is human.
The Human Side of Change
While change is always part of an either external or internal context, it is always expressed through an action, such as a change in behaviour and ways of working. Due to the nature of the human being, it always has a strong emotional dimension linked to it, as people react differently to change depending on the situation and the degree to which they are directly affected. However most go through the same stages (shock, denial, frustration…) as illustrated by the change curve below by Kübler Ross:
Even if there is traditionally opposition to change, in today’s world there is now a growing awareness that change is no longer a rare and overwhelming event, but a daily reality.
Emotional reactions are therefore normal and are not a sign of being less professional. On the contrary, they show a degree of interest and involvement, even if this can in some cases also be related to exhaustion, this is especially true if a person or a group of people experience too many changes within a short period of time.
A study in 2016 indicated that more than 9 out of 10 people had experienced at least one change in the last 3 years.
The same study revealed that when looking at change projects within companies, 78 % of employees felt that the change project was necessary, however half of the employees believed that the change project had been handled in an unfortunate way.
Among others, some of the main issues raised in the study were that:
- 50 % of the employees wished for more communication about the change
- 61 % of the employees wished for more time to adapt to and integrate the change
- 61 % of the employees wished to receive more training to master the change
- 67 % of the employees wished for management to consider the fears and take employee suggestions into account
- 63 % felt that they did not have the opportunity to express themselves while undergoing the change
Indeed, when it comes to change, the lack of involvement and consideration of human needs can have severe consequences for a project’s and company’s long-term success.
Let us consider a few impacts; at employee level it can lead to a decreased sense of justice, trust and involvement leading to a loss of job loyalty and motivation
This will inevitably impact the project: such employee resignation can delay delivery and respect of the timeframe, as well as create additional work and costs. At an overall organizational level this can be translated into a drop in productivity averaging 37% together with an increase in employee turnover and an increase in the rates of absenteeism and presenteeism of respectively 2.3% and 4%.
The biggest risk is that the project doesn’t succeed at all, resulting in lost opportunities.
Is Change Learnable?
The question is what can be done to avoid such costly failures?
An appropriate and consistent change management approach is a wise move and in this case the chances are 6 times higher that a project exceeds its objectives than with poor or no change management support.
Many change management frameworks exist, like the 8 Step Model by John Paul Kotter, the ADKAR model by PROSCI, etc.
All of them implement various levers of change, of which the following are of particular importance:
- Involvement of employees to ensure their full commitment in the change project and to allow for feedback.
- Communication providing substance and meaning to the project in order to reduce uncertainty and limit the risk of misinterpretation. Three main objectives should be aimed for: Information, understanding and contribution.
- Documentation to ratify new operating principles, supporting employees by formalising best practices.
- Training to facilitate employee adaptation and reduce resistance that might be encountered due to the change.
- Coaching and tutoring to maintain momentum in the project and to accompany employees through the change anchoring commitment to the change project.
With these levers in mind, it is important that they are considered across the organisation and that key stakeholders are involved from the beginning.
With over 20 years of experience and over 500 change projects accompanied, MindForest has developed its own unique change framework and acquired many tips and tricks in the field. Constant implication in the field of consultancy with the subsequent need to innovate and improve, and the organic growth and multidisciplinary experience within MindForest are clear proof that even as change experts we continue to develop. CHANGE can and should indeed be learnt!
CHANGEx – an Online Learning and Knowledge Sharing Platform for Everyone!
Not only change agents and consultants need to be ready for change. All key stakeholders across all sectors and organisations need to be fit for transformational events and need to be supported thoroughly throughout the specific project timeline and beyond.
Having experienced many frustrations and needs first-hand, MindForest decided to develop a multilingual online learning and knowledge-sharing platform to support individuals and organisations in developing their own understanding and competencies in change management. In addition to this, a community of experts and like-minded change experts have joined the network to keep growing together. In other words, to leave frustrations behind and learn about change to learn to change!
Are you interested in joining the community and testing the platform? Either individually or as part of an organisation? Experience a free trial at https://changex.center/en/ and get 10% off an annual subscription using the code AMCHAM*
We look forward to changing with you!
*the 10% discount is only available during the month of November 2021.
 Kübler-Ross, E. (1969): On death and dying. New York: Macmillan
 Baromètre 2016 sur l’accompagnement humain du changement, Empreinte Humaine / IFOPOP