Change happens at an ever-increasing pace for organizations, and change is no longer initiated at the beginning of a strategy period. Still, it must be dealt with as a condition every day. But even though most of us find ourselves in constant change, it remains a challenge to lead in situations of change.
Over the past few years, we have repeatedly directed our focus on change in a corporate context. We have touched on how change is not in itself dangerous but that it is essential to take care of the change. Humans are creatures of habit but adaptable. Therefore, when we have made a decision about a change, we must ensure that we lead through the change and create the necessary meaning by understanding the significance of the change for the individual employee and/or department. But how do you do just that and ensure that everyone is included in the journey of change?
How does the organization understand itself?
It is a good idea to look at your organization from above, as it can indicate which mechanisms a change process may trigger in the individual employee and department. Few organizations appear to have a flat organizational structure, and significant changes will, therefore, as a general rule, come from the top. The problem lies in the fact that many intermediate calculations are done when the information trickles down through the organization. The intermediate calculations are what the systemic organization theory calls meaning formation.
The meaning formation is created in relation to how each department or employee understands themselves and the change that is underway. The theory is based on a biological concept, where it is said that a change will be perceived as being either positive or negative. The outside world, in this case, the management, cannot fundamentally change that since every department of a company has built up its logic for how it perceives itself in the organization based on experiences.
This means that the formation of meaning is created within the department, and therefore not by the management telling the employees how the change should be perceived.
But can you do nothing at all? Yes, of course. And we apologize for the rather long-winded explanation of how meaning is created. But it is quite significant, as it underlines the fact that there will be resistance when a department or a group of employees has to receive and absorb information that comes from above if it is not adapted to their logic or perceptions.
Choose the right person to convey the change
A good trick to ensure that the communication about change is not perceived as unfavorable is to initially reduce the complexity of what is being communicated. I do not mean that you should assume that the recipients cannot understand complex messages – not at all. But the less and more precisely that is communicated, the less risk there is of it being misunderstood. And remember as many positive angles as possible. It can help dismantle the fear of change.
In relation to conveying the communication, it may seem obvious that those who have the overall responsibility for the organization’s design and infrastructure are the ones who must be responsible for the dissemination. But that’s just sometimes the case. There is a role that is at least as crucial in connection with the impending change. Because on the one hand, the top management is essential in relation to the changeover itself because it must take the lead to initiate the change, but those who implement the new approach in practice are the employees who understand the logic in the individual units. They are the ones who can act as agents of change. A change agent is close enough to the other employees to know what happens daily. Therefore, a local anchored change agent can be a central player in translating the management’s strategy and, at the same time, getting the employees involved in the change process.
Involve the employees
The change agent must seek input from the employees on what is needed to implement the changes constructively. The employees’ involvement helps create joint constructive narratives about the process you as a company must go through and the future you are moving towards. This is also called narrative organizational understanding. That is how we understand and see each other, and the organization is created through how we talk to each other.
The change agent is responsible for laying down the tactics needed to operationalize the changes that have been strategically decided. This means that the change agent must take the lead in the change process, communicate the changes and involve the employees so that they feel ownership of the changes. This is important, as a new solution usually affects the employees’ everyday life through new routines, workflows, etc. Fundamentally, people must know why they must change habits and familiar structures.
A culture ready for change
Suppose you choose to launch a change project with the above-mentioned tactical approach. In that case, you as an organization will appear to be proactive in relation to setting goals for the work with the change and organizing it effectively. Otherwise, you will create fertile ground for a reactive culture characterized by a wait-and-see attitude and skepticism concerning change.
In a proactive and change-ready culture, you set goals, choose a method and work disciplined to achieve your goal, and you work with influence and development in relation to your employees – and lead through the constant changes.