In my previous blog, “Change, grief, and HR: Recognizing how cycles of change affect your people,” we discussed the cycles of change. Recognizing these cycles is critical to knowing where you are now as an organization, where you want to be, and how your people feel about it since change can be viewed as negative. We’ve had to learn how to manage new stressors and accept outcomes we’re uncomfortable with. But what do we do now that we recognize what’s happening? Well, this is the point where we need a deeper understanding of change management models and theories so we can start taking clear steps forward and integrating these approaches into our HR technology.

For those of you already bracing yourselves, trust me, this won’t be a lecture; it will be practical tips that are applicable to your organization as you start to navigate future changes.

The two change management models I use when working with companies are Lewin’s 3 Step Change Model and Prosci’s ADKAR method.  Although similar in structure, Lewin’s approach is designed to have a positive impact relatively quickly while Prosci goes a bit more in-depth. For that reason, I’m starting with Lewin’s model as it’s a great way for HR professionals to get new processes up and running fast, which is just what we need right now. Let’s dive in to see how you can get a foothold with change management strategy and then we’ll move to ADKAR in a future post.

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1. The unfreeze stage

It’s often true in the workplace that we don’t all do things the same way. Our managers and colleagues have different opinions on how tasks should be completed and what the best processes look like. However, what everyone tends to agree on is that when something isn’t working efficiently and effectively, we need to change. Congratulations – if you’ve gotten to this point at your organization you’ve just completed the first step in Lewin’s change management model – the unfreeze stage, identifying the need for change.

This stage requires an evaluation, formal or informal, to identify what needs to change and why. Of course, as you do your assessment, make sure to look for opportunities to optimize and new ways of accomplishing key activities.

Tip: Create a process map of what isn’t working and why. Highlight critical milestones required to achieve the process, where inefficiencies exist, and ideas on how they can be streamlined.

For those of you who rely on HCM technology to automate processes, ask yourself, is there a way to optimize the workflow to notify the right people, require specific actions, and minimize touch points? The more you do up front to get clear systems in place, the faster and more smoothly the other change management stages will go.

Once you’ve completed the evaluation, whether you’re doing it alone or with those colleagues mentioned above, you must grow your support. Stakeholder involvement is key, as well as ensuring they stay involved through the entire change process, so you need to get them on board up front.

Tip: Make sure your evaluation highlights how the changes you uncover will positively impact others, make their jobs easier, and help the growth of the business.

The foundation of any change management strategy is communication.  Just like in our personal lives, if we don’t communicate effectively in the workplace, our relationships will suffer. Change management is no different.

Tip: Prior to communicating the need for change, create a communication plan or checklist to ensure employees receive the proper information. Create practical, crafty, and precise message guidelines so employees understand the action they need to take in the future.

We’ve all been in a situation where there was miscommunication, and I doubt any of us were thrilled. In the professional world, people tend to be extra critical when it comes to ineffective communication. Don’t let this be the reason your change management strategy fails. Automate communication as much as you can with your HR technology, sending regular notifications as you clear different process stages that loop the right groups into the conversation at the right times.

To close out the unfreeze stage, you have to recognize that you will have people who will be worried, nervous, and fearful of the oncoming change. As I consult with organizations, I often tell them that at this point everyone on your change management team is in sales and must manage expectations.

Tip: Reference your initial evaluation and overcommunicate the importance and value of the change.  Ensure employees feel heard and make them part of the conversation that drives acceptance of change.

This is a great opportunity to leverage your HCM software to create surveys that will provide your change team direct feedback so you can assess and take action to promote value in a consistent way. This both gives you valuable insights into what matters to your people and helps them feel they have a voice in the process, which breaks down some of the resistance you may face.

2. The change stage

Knowing that communication and active planning are the foundation of a good change management strategy, Lewin's change stage puts the planning you worked through into action. Sounds pretty simple, right? If you did the first stage right, it should be.

Active communication during the change process itself that is consistent, maintains momentum, focuses on action, and engages your people so that the change sticks is key. Sometimes the actual change process itself can be short and to the point. If you’ve planned well, negative impact will be minimal because you’ll be able to leverage the automation and processes you put in place when you were convincing people change was needed.

Tip: Keep individuals motivated by empowering them to make decisions in the change stage while keeping the overall goals in mind.  Utilize your HCM technology to help with communication in the need to pivot from the original plan as issues arise.

Be prepared to execute plan B if your initial change approach fails – and be honest about it. Keeping people informed even if the final result of your changes is different than you expected will be better than letting your people believe things are going a certain way and then being underwhelmed in the end.

3. The refreeze stage

This is where we bring in more resources and get more people actively promoting the changes you’ve made. It’s about reinforcing, accepting, and ensuring adoption of the change.

Tip: Measure your strategy’s effectiveness by identifying any issues that came up during the change stage.

I put this tip in the final stage because reflection is key to continuous improvement for future changes. Another quick pulse survey through your HCM system or a discussion at your next company meeting will help you assess how this change has impacted your organization. It will also provide you instant feedback so you can sustain the change long term. Provide support to your employees as future issues arise.

Tip: A simple and effective way to support employees is to provide them a change management org chart with people they can go to if they have questions, concerns, or need support once the change is in place. 

The final piece of this stage that I highly respect in Lewin’s 3 Step Change Model is to celebrate successes. We must recognize that change isn’t easy. If possible, you can even work some kind of recognition or benefit for top adopters or change advocates into your total rewards mix to incentivize your people to participate actively when the next change inevitably comes along.

I would take this a step further and say not only should we celebrate successes, but also have the humility to own when something fails. This way we can move forward together and celebrate many more successes through change in the future. We aren’t perfect but we can always improve.

Conclusion: In the end, change needs to resonate with your people

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve found that implementing a change management model really isn’t that difficult.  Lewin provides quick and easy components that simplify the change process.  Taking your change management to the next level will be crucial to future business success, as well as simplifying the process of change and adoption by leveraging technology. Ultimately, you’ve got to connect with the moments that matter to your people if you want your changes to resonate, so make sure that’s a part of the discussions you have from stage one on if you choose to use Lewin’s model.

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Published: Tuesday, October 6, 2020