Change management is a process for ensuring that the people affected by change understand the nature of the change and the reasons for it. Successful change management is an all-hands-on-deck activity.

Organizations must guard against fear of change which tends to paralyze progress. Fear of change is a real and valid concern. People are afraid of change because of its potential impact on them, their function, and even their future. Corporate downsizing and outsourcing cause major disruptions of people’s lives, and continual improvement efforts are often blamed for job losses.

To reduce fear, it is important that the vision of the future be well communicated and that jobs will be protected when feasible. Although these precautions will not totally remove fear, they can remove some of the uncertainty. The best way to overcome fear is with active participation of the entire organization.

No matter how we are affected, we need to be an active participant. This cooperative environment will, eventually, win over the naysayers who do not see any justification to change something that, in their mind, is working just fine. Organizations, however, who do not continually move forward will be left behind, endangering the entire workforce.

Managers at all levels also need to be actively involved. First and foremost, management must show its support and articulate the rationale for the change. As good leaders, managers must listen to those who perform the work; if leaders do not listen to their colleagues and adjust accordingly, even the best ideas may be doomed to failure.

During my five decades of experience in a Fortune 50 company, I was involved in several changes with more than a few considered major endeavors. A few weren’t as successful as hoped, but most were very successful.

The best stories of change management success came from those case studies where management planted the seed, provided the environment for the seed to germinate, and then allowed the change to grow through active participation of the employees. Those leaders participated enough to keep the process moving and to provide guidance as needed, but they did not get in the way of progress. After all, ideas generate more fruitfully in the soil of loose thinking.

From a quality perspective, leaders who understand change apply good voice-of-the-customer practices when working with employees. They also understand the value of the knowledge that employees have around the issues which are the focus of the change.

This is an important consideration when assembling the team to manage the process. Successful leaders also understand the value of testing proposed changes. Many times applying the appropriate quality tools, like failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA), will ensure the right solutions are being implemented.

The one area where some leaders are not consistently effective is preparing employees for the coming change. This goes beyond simply announcing or publicizing the change. Of course, this is important, but what can really help with acceptance is the employees’ readiness to adopt the change as their own.

It is critically important, therefore, that managers fully understand their employees’ readiness to take responsibility for change. One way to do this is through the concept of resilience.

Years ago, I was put in charge of a team charged with a major change considered critically important. In the introductory phase, we conducted a study to identify what management could do to help employees find success with the proposed directional change.

Perplexed how to proceed, a team member mentioned how the healthcare field determined a patient’s readiness to take responsibility for their own healthcare needs. It was felt that, with some modification, this approach might provide insight.

We followed some of the same approaches. At the end, the study revealed that employees could learn to be more resilient and more accepting of change. With slight modification, it was determined that resilience could be redefined as the ability to deal with large amounts of disruptive change while remaining effective and productive.

The change leaders were able to engage employees to accept that their world was changing, and they must participate to have a more fulfilling experience. Through various interactive techniques, the change leaders moved ahead more skillfully with the support of the employees.

Managers need to work within their environments to prepare their people for changes – from everyday changes to those life-altering, disruptive changes. Resilience is one way of preparing their colleagues to expect and handle any type of change.

As thought leaders, quality professionals can be valuable assets to the process through applying the quality tools learned throughout our careers. We must continue listening to the people affected. We must work with colleagues to evaluate and focus on the appropriate solutions.

Good leaders know that resistance to change is not the employee’s fault; it is the responsibility of all who are sponsoring the changes. Active participation and resiliency are the keys to success.