We are living in a world of constant, accelerating change. Organizations must continually adapt or risk becoming obsolete. Companies that were once leaders fell by the wayside because they failed to innovate at a pace necessary to keep up with customers’ needs. Despite this, “more than 70% of needed change either fails to be launched, fails to be completed, or finishes over budget, late and with initial aspirations unmet” (Harvard Business Review). Hence why the ability to incorporate big changes, while driving results, is a much-sought-after competency. Proficiency in change management is a skill set quality professionals must possess to stay relevant.

As quality professionals, we always need to be prepared for change. Whether we are dealing with a planned initiative, a volatile industry, or an unexpected situation such as a pandemic, change is inevitable. Leaders, middle managers, and individual contributors can all future proof their careers by learning these skills. Following are key concepts to successfully manage change, and proactively support change initiatives led by others.  

Culture is key to unlocking your organization’s greatest potential. Foster a culture that is open to change.

1. Build a Culture That Embraces Change. Culture is key to unlocking your organization’s greatest potential. Foster a culture that is open to change.

2. Recognize That Change Management has to do With People, Not the Change Itself. Project management focuses on defining and implementing projects that will change an organization’s structure, jobs, roles, processes and systems. Change management, on the other hand, focuses on helping individuals impacted by these changes adapt and be successful. Far too often, companies underestimate the importance of change management. The people need to be prepared for the change, and adequately supported throughout it.

3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! Create a compelling case for the change. The real power of vision is unleashed only when most employees have a common understanding of its goals and direction. The shared sense of a desirable future can help motivate action. Vision is usually communicated most effectively when different vehicles are used: large group meetings, emails, posters, and one-on-one sessions. When the same message comes at people from six different directions, it stands a better chance of being heard and remembered, on both an intellectual and emotional level.

4. Understand the “How Will it Affect Me” Principle. Whether the change is positive (the company is growing so fast you need to move to a larger building) or negative (a reduction in force), every employee will go straight to “How will this affect me?” Does this mean I have to move my desk? Will I get a new boss? Will I have the same responsibilities? Understand that any time there is a major development at work, positive or negative, there will be a natural dip in productivity as individuals and teams react and adapt to the new paradigm, environment, organizational structure, or leadership team. Be empathetic and try to look at the change through the eyes of each department or person.  

5. Embrace the Change Cycle. Humans naturally resist change. When it comes to change management, there is no predictable timeline for when everyone will be enthusiastically “on board.” Each person will process the change at their own pace, and work though the change cycle, which starts with feelings of loss, then doubt, then discomfort, followed by discovery, understanding, then finally integration. “Slowness to change usually means fear of the new” (Philip Crosby). Work to understand the fears and address the causes.

6. Watch Out for the Underminers. Once you have made the announcement, give people ample time to work through their reactions, and offer personal assistance to stragglers. If you are still noticing hotbeds of resistance, then it is time for a different conversation. Be direct: “It’s been three months now, and you’re not getting there. Are you going to get there? Or do we need to talk about other options for you?” At a certain point, after a reasonable amount of time has passed, each employee has two options: get on board, or get off at the next exit.

Change is constant, and the rate of change is not likely to slow down anytime soon. We are constantly challenged to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions we face in industry. Quality professionals who learn to manage change, and accelerate the acceptance of change within their sphere of influence, will thrive in their careers.