Managing Change in the Workplace - 4 Key Steps to Incremental Change

business teamwork - business men making a puzzle over a white background

Dr. Purushothaman
December 6, 2013

In managing change in the workplace it is extremely important to draw the distinction between "incremental change" and "step change".

Whilst the broad principles of leading and managing change are universal it is very important to establish very early on whether or not what you are proposing can be regarded as "incremental change" and realistically can be accomplished within the constraints of "Business As Usual", or whether it is a "step change" and needs to be handled as a specific initiative - with the appropriate level of senior sponsorship and practical support of a structured programme management based process.

In this article, I am going to address managing change in the workplace as incremental change, that is, change within the context of business as usual.

Given that the single biggest reason for the astonishingly high 70% failure rate of ALL business change initiatives has been the over-emphasis on process rather than people coupled with the failure to take full account of the impact of change on those people who are most impacted by it. So clearly the approach that I am recommending has to address this with processes that work for people.

Here are the 4 key steps to managing incremental change in the workplace:

(1) Clarity in all areas

Before going anywhere with a proposed change you need to have pristine clarity with regard to:

- The business need for the change
- The specifics of the change
- The benefits of the change
- Most importantly the impacts of the change

I recommend that you consider carefully each of the following questions:

- How's it going to be different when I've made the change?
- Why am I doing this - how's it going to benefit me?
- How will I know it's benefited me?
- Who's it going to affect and how will they react?
- What can I do to get them "on side"?
- What risks and issues do I have to face?
- What steps do I have to take to make the changes and get the benefit?
- How am I going to manage all this so that it happens and I succeed?

(2) Consistent leadership

Change management guru John Kotter suggests that for change to be successful, 75% of a company's management needs to "buy into" the change. So convincing people that the change is necessary is extremely important.

This will require strong leadership and visible support from key people within your organization. Managing change isn't enough - you have to lead it.

So managing change in the workplace also requires leadership that is visible and leadership that is consistent in all aspects of the way in which you lead the change as well as how you manage the situation, handle the communication, and ensure the realisation of the benefits of the change.

The single biggest aspect of your leadership will be how you address the emotional rather than the rational aspects of the change.

Many thought leaders in the world of change management and change leadership are now speaking vociferously about the importance of the emotional dimension of leadership and the need to address the human dimension of change.

Leadership thought leader and management guru William Bridges [who focuses on the emotional and psychological impact and the transition aspects of change] offers these 3 simple questions:

What is changing? - Put together a short clear statement of under 60 seconds duration that summarises why the change is necessary and your intentions - what organisational benefit you hope to realise.

What will actually be different because of the change? - Tell them exactly and precisely where and how things will be different after the change.

Who's going to lose what? - Don't "gloss over" or attempt to minimise or trivialise what they will lose and have to let go of. Be direct, honest and empathic in your truthful recognition of what the impact of your change will mean for them.

You will gain more respect and minimise mistrust by being truthful. This prepares the ground for the practical hands on management support that you will be providing to translate your "change concept" into a tangible organisational benefit.

(3) Constant communication

You can never "over communicate" in leading and managing a change situation and especially with regard to what is happening or not happening and why.

This is also a communication process that listens actively and demonstrates to people that you have thought through the impacts of the change on them, and that you are prepared to work with them through the transition, and that you will help make it work for them.

In terms of the emotional resonance aspect of your communications, remember Martin Luther King who did not stand up in front of the Lincoln Memorial and say: "I have a great strategy" and illustrate it with 10 good reasons why it was a good strategy. He said those immortal words: "I have a dream," and then he proceeded to show the people what his dream was - he illustrated his picture of the future and did so in a way that had high emotional impact.

5 guiding principles of a good change management communication process

- Clarity of message - to ensure relevance and recognition
- Resonance of message - the emotional tone and delivery of the message
- Accurate targeting - to reach the right people with the right message
- Timing schedule - to achieve timely targeting of messages
- Feedback process - to ensure genuine two way communication

(4) Capability and resources

This is about ensuring that your people have the full resources and capabilities they need to support them thro the change. This all boils down to: translating vision and strategy into actionable steps.

As leader of the change, you now face the equally if not more difficult challenge of getting the staff to deliver your new change idea and achieve the organisational benefits that you anticipate.

The trouble is that people are very different in the ways they process information, interpret life, and in the ways they are motivated. Many (probably most) of them are not able to make the leap from hearing and understanding your vision and strategy to translating that into purposeful productive action.

This does not mean that they don't understand it, or agree with it, but it does simply mean that the leap is too great for most people to make - without practical assistance.

So this means that delivering an incremental change requires hands-on detailed management [micro management on occasions] in the specifics of how to do it, especially during the early stages.

Read Related Recent Articles