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Bottom-Line Behavior

Workplace change: It's a process, not a plan

Change (management) is hard. Here’s how to make it work.

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Change is rarely easy. Old habits do indeed die hard. When your business needs a change, it won’t happen overnight. You need a change management strategy — but more than that, you need to continuously work on that strategy in real time to ensure you meet your goals.

You can have what looks like a great change management strategy, but many change management strategies end up failing. Why? The short answer is human nature. People are uncomfortable with change, always have been, always will be. But in my experience, the main reason change management strategies fail is because leaders forget individuals are crucial to a successful process. If a single, or few individuals are resistant to change, it can derail the whole process. That’s why change management is a process, not a plan.

“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” –Joe Louis

Everyone from management on down wants to be successful, and ostensibly wants the company to be successful. If everyone wants the same thing, why do these plans often fail? The reality is many people aren’t willing to make the changes needed to be successful. You must lead people to change rather than demand it. And it starts by looking in the mirror.

According to an article from the Harvard Business Review, there are a number of questions leaders must ask when defining an integrated change agenda:


Is the leadership team aligned around a clear, inspiring strategy and set of values?

If your leaders aren’t aligned, how do you expect the rest of the team to be on board? Make sure you approach the change management process in lockstep agreement with each other.


Has the team collected unvarnished employee feedback about barriers to effectiveness and performance — including senior managers’ own behavior?

Pre-process feedback is one of the best ways to identify change management issues before they happen and change course accordingly.


Has the team redesigned its organization, management systems and practices to address the problems revealed by that diagnosis?

Knowledge is power, but only if you use it. When the reality on the ground differs from your assumptions, you must make the necessary changes to ensure success.


Is HR offering consulting and coaching to help employees learn on the job so they can practice the new attitudes and behaviors required of them?

Part of leading employees to change is giving them the resources necessary to accomplish it. Change can be a shock to the emotional system. To be successful, you must provide employees with the tools to deal with change.


Do corporate training programs properly support the change agenda, and will each unit’s leadership and culture provide fertile ground for it?

In my experience, too many companies conduct “off-the-shelf” training programs that often fall flat with their teams. Every company is unique. Its training should be too. Find a training program that can be customized to your organization and your people.


Answering the above questions, and designing your strategy around the answers, is a great start to a successful change management program.

But it’s only the start. Along the way, every change management plan meets resistance. Those leaders who can identify resistance and adjust strategies are the ones who will be successful. A good model for identifying and overcoming resistance comes from Prochaska and his “Stages of Change” model. Here’s how to use it to your advantage.

Stage 1: Pre-contemplation. During this stage, a person becomes aware they may need to change. Evidence is accumulating they have a problem or behavior that requires change.

How to apply it to change management: Provide information and feedback that will help people to become aware of the need to change. This will help speed up the process by bringing issues to the surface quickly.


Stage 2: Contemplation. In this stage, a person evaluates the pros and cons of making a change — but motivation can waiver.

How to apply it to change management: Continuously clarify the reasons for the change — and the price for not making the change to the company, the team and everyone involved.


Stage 3: Preparation/Determination. In this stage, a person commits to making a change and starts preparing a strategy to make the change happen.

How to apply it to change management: Help the team or individual develop a strategy for change, get them all the information and resources they need to achieve the desired change. Be a mentor and a coach and a peer.


Stage 4: Action. During this stage, a person takes action and begins implementing changes.

How to apply it to change management: Encourage this behavior and consider rewarding the team for meeting milestones in the plan.


Stage 5: Maintenance – In this stage, people use strategies to prevent falling back into old behavior as well as to reinforce new behaviors.

How to apply it to change management: Even the top athletes in the world need to practice everyday to keep up their skills. Make sure you are constantly helping your team and reinforcing the need to stay the course.


Stage 6: Integration – In this final stage, people are no longer engaging in previous behaviors. Change has been achieved!

How to apply it to change management: If you’ve gotten to this stage, your change management plan was likely successful. Congratulations!


As you can see, human psychology plays a big role in change management. After all, you’re trying to get humans to change! But you don’t have to be a clinician to positively affect behaviors. You just have to go into the process with a clear head, make honest assessments and create strategies that overcome the human resistance to change.



Denise Federer

Denise Federer is a contributing columnist to the Business Observer. She is the founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group with more than 30 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at [email protected].


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