In this especially volatile era of continual disruption, change management needs to be a core competency of leadership teams. Yet, organizational change is difficult to accomplish. Even in the most open-minded organizations, change is hard to sell to both executives and employees because it disrupts the comfort of the status quo (even if that status quo is no longer relevant or even working). As such, these projects are prone to failure.
According to research by UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, 50 to 70 percent of organizational change efforts fall flat. Reasons include lack of buy-in, implementation problems, and the complexity of the change.
So, based on the stats alone, if you’re tasked with change management in your organization, you’re likely following in the footsteps of managers who have tried changing things before, and those footsteps lead right into quicksand. But that doesn’t have to be your legacy.
One way to ensure that you succeed in your change efforts where others have failed: Design thinking.
The secret, according to Harvard Business Review, is starting the entire process with empathy. Let’s imagine you’re reworking your department’s processes and procedures as a result of new technology automating what once had been done by hand. (A common scenario in many industries today.) Job responsibilities need to be shifted, duties consolidated, employees’ positions might have to change from back-of-the-house to front-of-the-house. Upskilling and retraining will be a must. How are you going to make this work?
Take the pulse of your team before any decisions are made. In this scenario employees are the customers, so treat them the way you would in any design thinking project—listen to their needs and develop empathy for the situation. The prospect of change is unsettling and even frightening to people who have always done things in the same way. Team members might be feeling they’re redundant, and on the brink of being laid off. Hear their fears then talk about the realities of the situation, discuss why changes in process will help the entire team, encourage open communication, and make sure everyone on the team knows you’re listening.
Brainstorm. Nobody knows the day-to-day workings of any job better than those who are doing it. They probably already have ideas for how to streamline, update, and work smarter. Take those ideas, build on them and come up with a plan that will maximize your team’s performance within the new perimeters of the job.
Roll out the changes iteratively. Don’t overhaul everything at once. Small changes in day-to-day work are easier to swallow than wholescale disruption. Schedule initial training sessions, and check in with employees during and after completion to see what’s working (another time tested tool of design thinking). This is the phase in which you test, revise, and repeat, going back to the ideation stage if necessary, to get things right.
Change management is a very delicate dance between “the way things have always been done around here” and the realities of the future of work—artificial intelligence, digital transformation, the need for retraining and upskilling. Design thinking can ease the process of change and ensure it succeeds where others have failed.
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