Times Are A-Changin’ … Is Your Business Ready?

By Kelli Hinshaw

Change management and business readiness in the face of such changes are a perpetual challenge for leaders. It requires a unique mindset in order to thrive during these times, and today we have insight on the subject from Kelli Hinshaw, vice president of strategic development for Reality-Based Leadership.

Change management is a topic that’s been studied for over 30 years, and organizations are spending more time and resources than ever to train employees to better endure change. Conventional change management wisdom often promotes ways to “make change easier” for employees so it sticks. Leaders are frustrated with the outcomes of this approach and are ready for results. So, with over 30 years of investing time and talent into “helping people with change,” when is the breakthrough coming?

Unfortunately, these long-standing conventional wisdoms have caused good, well-intentioned leaders to lean in too far and over-manage employees in an effort to protect them from business realities. Simultaneously, leaders underlead employees by failing to keep their skills ever-ready for what’s next. It’s time to move beyond old philosophies that promote the goal of change management to be protection of the people from the impact of change.

The next generation of great employees and forward-thinking HR and business leaders focus on a new philosophy. They cultivate employees with skills who are ready, willing, and able to thrive in anticipation of changing circumstances, with the focus on protection of the business from the impact of failing to adapt to changing times.

How can leaders shift into this new mindset of business readiness? At Reality-Based Leadership, we are asked this question almost daily, and it often falls into three main themes.

Why Isn’t Our Change Management Training Working?

Traditional HR practices focus too much on making change least disruptive to the employees rather than ensuring it’s least disruptive to the business. In fact, many traditional change management processes encourage leaders to carry the burden of rolling out the perfect communication plan, perfect vision statement, and the perfect process cadence to assure buy in.

Yet in reality, when a good leader takes ownership of perfecting these circumstances for their teams, they unintentionally create a culture of “learned helplessness,” which is a mindset that people have no ability to change or control their outcomes (“My leader has it handled!”).

So, when reality hits and imperfect circumstances arise, coddled employees blame their circumstances and the change management plan for their pain, suffering, and lack of results at work. This approach is frustrating to leaders and keeps businesses from seeing the true potential of making great changes.

How Long Should We Give Employees to “Grieve” the Change?

Change is only hard for the unready and those who choose to attach their happiness and identity to circumstances, people, and situations. Because in reality, we can attest that circumstances are typically never permanent and in a thriving, profitable organization that exceeds client expectations, circumstances will change often to assure continued success.

For example, when you communicate a business or process change, people typically respond in two ways: The first group is relieved, excited, and ready to dig in with the “the new thing.” The second group—impacted by and communicated with the exact same change—spends precious work hours shocked and surprised, turning to blaming, moaning, and whining to anyone who will sympathize about how horrible the change is, questioning the competency of the leader who made the decision, and evaluating their own survival abilities.

Two groups, the same change, with vastly different mindsets. Employees who are ready don’t need time to grieve change; they immediately turn their energy into making the change work. They aren’t naïve to the realities or hurdles that new processes or projects bring, they use productive energy to minimize the hurdles and ensure a successful outcome for their teams.

But what about the research on grieving? Many common change management methods were grounded in the theories related to coping with drastic loss, such as losing a spouse, dealing with divorce or a drastic job loss, etc. In business, traditional change management has leaned too heavily on these grieving processes for daily business realities: process changes, software changes, or being placed on a new team.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, Hinshaw provides more tips on change management, including how to prevent “change fatigue.”