IDBS Blog | 5th April 2016

Managing People Through Business Changes

The scenario is sadly only too familiar: management has decided on a project to transform the business that is ultimately unsuccessful.

It’s true, companies need to adapt to keep up with new technologies and ideas, but, according to Forbes, 70% of these projects result in failure. Why are they so hard to implement? The answer is simple. A major component of the change process still doesn’t get the attention it needs: the people involved in it.

We all know that we cannot set out on such an expedition without a well-defined strategy, an evaluation of the status quo and the target state, and enough money to ensure it doesn’t end in a kludge. And yet, those communicating business changes are still too often ill equipped to deliver the messages, and their consequences, to everybody involved.

To improve messaging, personnel can be grouped into types. The visionary grasps the idea immediately and can think beyond the status quo. But the workforce is full of opportunists, waverers, open critics and even guerrilla fighters. These groups don’t characterize a person per se, but only their attitudes to a specific process or change. If you can understand a person’s current position and their reasoning, their concerns can be addressed and dealt with – the aim is to ensure that everybody is aligned and nobody is left behind.

The key to a successful alignment is choosing the most suitable language for each type. Visionaries understand logic and possibilities in the future. The open opponents are similar, although they need more logic and less dreamy opportunities. To win the opportunist, you have to show them ‘what’s in for them’ after the change, while the waverers need supportive and assuring conversations.

The most difficult and challenging group is certainly the guerrilla fighters as these individuals are likely to discreetly undermine business changes. Unfortunately, this is often the group which will lose the most (e.g. power) and they may need a substantial amount of time and effort to convince – a good approach, though, is to address their concerns directly.  

When attempting transformational changes, communication is central. It has to be continuous and honest. But, most importantly, you have to know your audience.

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