Many employees report that when management wants a change in policies, people, processes, structure and so on, they offer inspirational sayings such as, "Change is a challenge to us to use our untapped skills" or "It's an opportunity for us/you" or "Change can be energizing." But for whom? Ironically, many employees do not see change as simple or as uplifting as management does.
But you can minimize or avoid potentially negative aspects of change by following my "seven P approach" that includes purpose, people, plan, process, product, perception and problem.
1. Purpose: Ask yourself and others the most important question of all: Is there a need for a change? If the answer is no, then your most crucial task is either to persuade people of the need or to create a need. Otherwise, without a recognized need for change, the entire change process is doomed to failure. Next, as a change agent, you need to ask yourself these questions: Exactly why am I encouraging this change? Who will benefit from it, and who will not? Is the change worth it?
2. People: Look at the people on your team and those who will be affected by the change. Are they committed, and do they have the needed skills to participate in the change process? Are they willing to take risks? Will they support you through the easy times as well as the difficult times? Do they need to see some progress before joining the team or agreeing to engage in the change process?
3. Plan: Do you have a solid, working, practical plan? Is it rational and well thought out? How sure are you that it will succeed? Is it flexible enough to adapt to unforeseen changes or obstacles? Is the plan motivating, uplifting and visionary enough to attract followers and helpers? Have you built in buffers or backups of resources that you might need should unexpected obstacles arise? Are your time frames realistic?
4. Process: What processes have you and others created to ensure the success of the change? Will you start the change with a small unit or group, or will you foolishly begin the change with the entire division, section or organization? What mechanisms are in place to deal with obstacles, especially those you do not anticipate? How are decisions made? Will you allow for dissent or be caught in the sinking process of groupthink, where dissension is not tolerated or voiced? How and by whom will communication within the change team be communicated internally and externally? And finally, but very crucially, how will you deal with conflict before it inevitably arises?
5. Product: Exactly what is it that you and others are working so hard to achieve? How realistic is it that you and your team can achieve this product? What is the cost of this product in terms of time, people, money and equipment? Beyond the vision of creating your product, what will it look like? How will it be used? If your end product is a service, how will it be carried out? How will you know if you have been successful?
6. Perception: How do others perceive you, your colleagues, the change process and the end product? You may believe that everything is moving along smoothly, that all or most of the people understand and accept the change and its implication, but those are your perceptions. Have you verified your reality with the reality of your colleagues and the other people involved in the change? Do other people perceive that you are an effective change agent, that the change will actually benefit them and that they can trust you with this process?
7. Problem: How will you deal with problems that inevitably occur? Do you have a crisis plan in place? Are your team members able to identify potential problems or obstacles before they get out of hand? Do your people know what to do when a problem occurs in terms of how to cope with it, whom to contact, what procedures to follow and how to prevent it from recurring? What will you do if you run out of resources or if the time frame shortens?
When considering any type of change, try to recall these important factors before you even think of moving forward. Remember, a job not worth doing is not worth doing well!
Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.