The top five mistakes to avoid when introducing change

In business, change is both inevitable and continual.

For instance currently J Sainsbury is preparing for the departure of chief executive Justin King, business minister Michael Fallon said that Royal Mail is to be sold for practical, logical and commercial reasons and Lloyds Banking Group is reducing its exposure to the beleaguered Spanish economy with the sale of its Spanish offshoot.

So how do we manage change and what are the pitfalls? Here are the biggest mistakes – Stephen Archer, director of business consultancy Spring Partnerships, explains how to avoid them.

Assume that employees will not understand the reasons for change

They are smarter than you think, assume this and don’t patronise them or ignore them. Finding ways to expand employees’ understanding is not as hard – or as patronising – as it sounds. The fact is that most people’s imaginations may become limited by the narrowness of their day-to-day experiences but they are capable of understanding the reasons for change.

Open questioning discussions will help employees’ rediscover what they know but have not necessarily connected with in the reality of their working environment. They will find that applying a knowledge of their role and the business, in combination with insights gained from their experience, can lead to positive change in both their own behaviour and the business outcomes.

Failing to convince them that change is possible

Providing workers with proof that change is possible by citing examples from within the organisation, similar organisations or even from quite different but analogous situations, offers them something to which they can relate.

Stories about how challenges were met and what benefits were generated will resonate and help them believe that they can do likewise. This approach is particularly powerful if people are ‘walked through’ previous case studies as if they were taking part in the process.

This makes the concepts appear more real and helps employees connect with the thought processes behind problem-solving activities in order to improve their own performance.

Ignore the potential for their participation in the process

‘Tell me – I will listen. Show me – I will understand. Involve me – I will learn’. To help staff prove to themselves that they can achieve more, there is no substitute for hands-on experience and active participation.

So create some practice scenarios based on real-world problems that may need fixing. This approach will enable workers to practice new activities without feeling under pressure or getting caught up in the baggage of a real situation.

Set up some ‘easy win’ lead-ins to help get the process started and enable staff to see that open thinking and open team-working can and does create some remarkable effects and outcomes. Then appoint change champions who can make it happen.

Keep them in the dark on progress

Too often a change programme is launched then the communication diminishes to such a level that people wonder if it still happening. A framework to keep the mission tight and focused is essential, but this should not be a problem if the activity is outcome-based and the champions are actively communicating within their teams and to other teams. Board level acknowledgment and support in a very open manner is vital.

It is important to give people reassurances as many can inevitably become fearful. They are likely to lack confidence and may not feel that they have the authority to make decisions that could move the change forward and even affect the entire organisation.

Allow people to work as they used to and continue outmoded practices

Assuming that the above steps have worked, there will be new things that inevitably need doing, but also activities that will have to be stopped. Allowing the old way of doing things to continue will destroy the change from within.

Failing to stop the old way of doing things is, in fact, one of the biggest reasons why change initiatives do not succeed. People may believe that the old ways worked and lack confidence that change will be a good thing – no matter how rational it is.

All levels of leadership must be aware of this dynamic and actively push through behavioural change in order to ensure that it becomes embedded into organisational culture.