Many organizations spent the last two decades learning not to see change as a danger or challenge, but as an opportunity to manage it to their competitive advantage. Despite this positive spin, results from change management initiatives continue to be less than stellar, causing many senior management teams to view them with apprehension. Considering the time and money required and only a 40% success rate, who can blame them?
Fortunately, an organizational model promoting change readiness provides a promising new perspective on change that has great potential to improve this success rate. In contrast to the static and responsive approach of change management , where change is positioned as an event to be undertaken, a change readiness approach is dynamic and proactive, positioning change simply as business as usual. Making this a part of your company all comes down to how it's communicated.
Consider the term "change management." It immediately frames change as something new and different that must be managed. Common actions that support this perception include hiring outside consultants, giving people additional change management project titles, and hosting special one-time change management training and meetings — all of which are focused on achieving the change and subsequently increasing the perception of change as something unusual to take care of so regular work can resume.
Not surprisingly, people hear this as extra work, contributing to the negative perception. Many people add to this the fear of what the change might mean to them personally, which can create actual resistance to the change. In addition, when you label a change effort a "change initiative," you put the focus on achieving the change itself, not day-to-day work.
Now consider the term "change readiness." It frames change as something that is present every day. Actions that support an organization in becoming change-ready include equipping people and improving systems and processes in order to build change awareness, change agility, change reaction, and change mechanisms — all of which, when used in concert, enable the company to effectively initiate and respond to change on a continuous basis. The process of making an organization change-ready requires multiple business initiatives. When you label change a business initiative, you put the focus on improving the organization, taking it off the change itself.
The continuous and integrated approach of change readiness requires the coordinated participation of everyone in the company, not just a few change agents or change leaders. As a result, it is critical that the whole company be effectively engaged in the change, which makes communication a critical component of the equation.
Companies who are successful at change use a variety of communication tools — far more than the number used by unsuccessful companies — to engage and keep people at all levels of the organization involved. Proven tactics used by companies who are successful at change include setting clear and high aspirations for the change, communicating the need for change in a positive way, making sure the CEO is highly involved and visible, and engaging the whole company in the change effort through a wide variety of methods. This includes choosing labels and actions that communicate change in a positive manner. In effective communication, words matter.
People hear business initiative as part of their job. After all, no one was hired for an ability to manage change; they were hired to do what they do — manage, design, forecast, etc. If communicated correctly, people may even see the organization's evolution as an opportunity for personal and professional evolution. By positioning change as business as usual, you are asking people to flex and develop muscles they were hired to flex, not grow a new limb.
Changing the way you communicate and position change has the potential to transform the way change is perceived and embraced across your organization. Why fight the uphill battle of trying to communicate, develop and inspire your people toward making a change, when you can communicate, develop and inspire people toward making the organization — and themselves — the best in the business?
How does your company communicate change? Is it positioned as everyone's opportunity for improvement, or as a special initiative and extra work? Was your last change effort successful? Can you envision a company where identifying, handling, and taking advantage of change is simply "business as usual"?