This is a question you might be pondering if you’re just getting into managing change. As you would probably know, if you wear a change management hat, that the answer is both.
The Art AND Science of Change
The science focus gives you the numbers, the ROI and strategies to follow and undoubtedly these are important, but you will never succeed in any change management strategy if you get the ‘art’ wrong. It can be easy for many change managers to follow the science. After all, there is clear, definable data and often tried and tested paths laid out in various strategies.
You are results focussed and have a definable goal that you want to see in action. But, and it’s a pretty big but, if you don’t account for the individuals involved and have the soft skills, communication skills, and the right approach to the people side of change, you will struggle to see the true benefits of any change.
When new to change management processes or have not had any formal training, it is easy to feel that this doesn’t matter; after all, the boss wants it to happen, so happen it will! Yet, a staggering 70% of change management initiatives fail. The cause is often a lack of honest and open communication, no communication to bring the stakeholders or workforce on board with the change or share reasons, challenges and successes.
Perhaps due to the misconception that it signals weakness if too much information is given, or you will be perceived as constantly negative or ineffective if change is needed regularly. It is easy for a workforce to become complacent in the way things are run, which leads to a resistance to change that will never be good for a company that has to change to move forward. A way to overcome this is by openly sharing the business’s challenges to show positivity to fix and invites thoughts on how to overcome them. If they are informed, a workforce will often rise to any challenge, no matter how tough. If they feel a part of the solution and move towards embracing change for the overall good.
The Art of Change Management – traits and skills
The art behind successful change management is the ability to juggle the needs of organisational strategy, the customer needs and demands with that of the employees, whilst supporting executives and paying attention to the logistical business requirements.
- Empathy is a valuable skill to show that you understand why some people feel how they do and can reassure and guide them through.
- Communication and presentation skills, both verbally and visually, are essential. Sometimes it is not what you say but how you say it that can determine success or failure. An effective change manager will understand the need to present change in various visual and verbal ways to ensure that individuals process information in a way they understand and can process the details given.
- Strategic thinking, having a strategy and knowing when it is time to change, adapting or remaining steadfast, and adjusting and being flexible when new information or data or results dictate calmly is a great strength.
- Digital skills, perhaps this goes without saying, but you will need solid digital skills to keep within budget, deliver on time and handle the various communications required.
- Persuasive, being persuasive is more than just bending an ear or an arm to bring people on board. It is using all of the above to get people on board and buying into the change so that they are comfortable with or at the least offer no resistance that can quickly disrupt their productivity and others.
Adopting a multidisciplinary approach
Change management experts, whether as an external consultant or in-house trained, will understand the requirement to follow change management principles and take the required multi-disciplinary approach combining art and science to avoid becoming another failure statistic. Agile project management courses can be an excellent way to ensure that your manager has the skills to implement change by understanding the methodology to deliver practical and repeatable change projects.
Using the wealth of soft skills we mention is an art. An effective change manager will analyse problems, define solutions and create the change program that brings a successful conclusion to deliver the desired outcome. Mobilising employee support is key to this happening.
Even when resistance starts high, a change manager must know how to engage, support and facilitate employee buy-in, whilst also tough to know when enough is enough and perhaps specific resisting individuals must be asked to step aside or down. They must be equally comfortable engaging executive and leadership support and balance the needs and demands of the up and down lines with stakeholders in the change. They also need a solid grasp of digital tools to manage the program requirements and create effective communications to support the change.
Of course, change initiatives can generate from customer or employee sources as well as leaders and executives. Hence, an adaptable and aligned approach that meets the needs for both organisational and people change to support the business positively is imperative. Of course, the overriding requirement must be to do what is best for the organisation, as, without it, there would be nothing to change. That said, the need for ground-level support is essential as for many businesses, they are what they are through their employees’ actions, so they must not be overlooked.
We said at the outset that 70% of change management initiatives fail, which by deduction means only around 30% succeed. This supports our view that change management is both an art and a science. You cannot simply mandate a change and expect everyone to follow through.
The mandated changes will lead to resentment, alienation and resistance from lack of motivation, which is often damagingly contagious! However, initiatives that are most likely to succeed foster an ethos of change as right for both the business and the employees.
Communication starts early and is maintained throughout. Encouraging employees to contribute and listen to their views in two-way communication, offering incentives and rewards for participating.
Take the fear out of change and celebrate even small successes, making the change program fun to be a part of. Of course, some change has negative impacts, but support and compassion to help those people adjust and make necessary changes are all part of the art required to succeed in a change management career.