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Wednesday, 20 March 2013 04:43

When it comes to change, implementation is just the beginning

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So you've just spent the past 12 months working on your change initiative:  First there were weeks of requirements gathering, followed by a lengthy strategic planning process, then systems setup and training - it's been a long, involved year.  But now it's the official launch date, and you can finally relax - right?

Well...not really.  As the kids say, it's about to get real up in here.

Even the best laid plans...

Sustaining a change can sometimes prove elusive.  Once a business initiative is implemented, project teams cease to meet regularly, feedback loops dry up and everyone gets back to business as usual.  Except that the old 'business as usual' doesn't exist any more, and confusion ensues.

It's important to remember that while you've been working with this change for months, it's still relatively new to almost everyone else affected by it.  Employees may have been through training and other types of preparation, but the changed environment isn't second nature to them yet.  And make no mistake:  To sustain a change, whatever you're asking people to do must become second nature to them.

Change is happening all the time

No company is static, no matter what business it's in.  In addition to the 'official changes' encompassed a change initiative, the business and the marketplace continue to evolve independently.  It's important for the project team - and for those departments which are involved in sustaining the official change mandate - to demonstrate how the new ways continue to align with the business.  This may involve weaving changes into new market information, reflecting them in new marketing materials and sales processes, or demonstrating how the changes will continue to positively impact customer service.  Actively creating these connections will help people transition from 'previous state' to 'present state' while maintaining continuity.

Respect the past

The last thing people want to hear during a change launch is that everything they've been doing up to now has been a waste of time.  As you move into the implementation phase, avoid trashing or discounting the previous way of doing things - it will only create morale issues that will adversely affect employees' enthusiasm for the change.

A better approach is to show how the changes are necessary building blocks for the future of the organization, and how they will deliver great outcomes for both the company and for the individuals involved.

Demonstrate progress

People will always get more excited about a change - and do a better job of sustaining it - when you can demonstrate that you are moving towards your goals.  It's imperative to build key metrics into your change management project plan, and keep them updated both as you approach the implementation and well afterwards.

The most obvious metric is the impact of the change on the bottom line, but there should also be a range of other metrics that you can point to:  It may be the successful launch of a new product, an expansion into a new area, an advance over the competition - whatever makes the most sense to your organization and the change mandate.  Keeping employees updated on progress well into the implementation phase will help maintain motivation.

Giving it all some closure

As we've discussed, implementation day isn't the end of the change initiative.  However, there is value in taking the time to recognize that a change has been successful - that the new ways of doing business have become second nature and are delivering results.  By recognizing this 'closure', and communicating it to employees, you're giving everyone permission to feel good about what they've accomplished and acknowledging their hard work.

You may not be able to set a calendar date for this closure - it may make more sense to time it to a sales goal or compliance target - but it should be set at the beginning of the change initiative, and clearly communicated to the organization.  It's a good way to draw a line under the initiative, which will make it easier to move on to the next one (because there's always a next one!).


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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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