Lee would like to thank Michael Hughes, vice president of Leadership Advisory Services at The Revere Group for contributing this month’s column.

It’s commonly accepted that as computing becomes increasingly pervasive change has become one of the few constants of business. But just because organizations face a continual stream of change has not meant that they necessarily know how to make change "work" – that is be understood, accepted and become part of the organization’s standard operating procedures with a minimum of business disruption.

Most companies can identify when change is needed. They form teams to reengineer processes and introduce new enabling technologies. But why does change sometimes fail to produce the intended consequence? Too often, the people being affected by the changes are ignored. Processes can be mapped and systems can be built, but people are less predictable and any change will spark some sort of emotional reaction.

If you want change to yield the desired result, you need to take time to understand people and develop strategies to address this critical component of change. Fact is, no organization has the luxury of "figuring it out as they go along" if they want changes to be integrated quickly, effectively and immediately with a minimum of business disruption. Here are 12 steps you can take to prepare your organization for change:

  1. Know Where You’re Headed – Start by developing a vision that describes the desired future state. Include key stakeholders in its development. A shared vision ensures all groups involved are heading in the same direction and, therefore, will know when they "arrive" at the future state.
  2. Promote the Need for the Change – People need to understand the purpose of the change in order to step out of their comfort zone. Leaders need to explain the "why" behind the change and the benefits of achieving the vision. Customize information to include the benefits to the individual whenever possible to address what’s-in- it-for-me question.
  3. Understand the Organization’s Culture – Take time to assess how elements of your current culture can be used to reinforce desired changes or serve as barriers to change. There can be imbedded values or norms in an organization’s culture that, although positive, can actually impede a desired change. For instance, if an organization values risk taking and creativity, this may work against a move to increase consistency and standardization.
  4. Identify Behavior Changes – In most change initiatives, the focus is on process or technology. These changes are usually tied to some greater, more encompassing transformation – such as a change in how people think about their role or a shift in business strategy. Determine desired changes in behaviors and tie these with process or technology changes. Reinforce, reward and recognize these behaviors.
  5. Involve People – People do not resist the change itself but the perception that change is being done to them and not with them. Ask employees for input and provide for two-way communication. Involve employees in all aspects of the change – from planning, design, validation, testing and measuring progress. Form a "change network" of employees representing business units/departments involved in the change to champion the initiative and serve as liaisons between the leadership and employee groups.
  6. Ensure Visible and Consistent Sponsorship – Identify key organizational leaders who will endorse the change and "walk the talk." If leaders do not embrace the change, how can you expect employees to justify moving from what they find familiar and comfortable? During the change, manage "by walking around" – be visible. Recognize those who are active in preparing for the change or demonstrate desired new behaviors.
  7. Define New Rules for Success –As people grow and develop in their roles at work, they gain an understanding of what it takes to achieve success. When these rules for success are changed, people get disoriented. If people can’t figure out what it takes to be successful, they may go back to the old way of doing things or create tense environments until the rules become clearer.
  8. Measure Performance – What gets measured, gets done – it is that simple. If a change is truly needed to increase efficiency or change a specific behavior, then it is worth measuring whether the change is taking place or that goal is achieved. Use this information to communicate achievements and to identify additional areas of development. Set realistic goals based upon the understanding that people will go through a learning curve. The more significant the change, the more time it may take people to integrate it into their daily roles and responsibilities.
  9. Communicate and Celebrate Progress – No matter how big or small the change, identify quick hits and communicate successes along the way. This will help to show progress toward the vision and the organization’s commitment to moving forward (e.g., that this is not the flavor of the month). This will also increase employee’s confidence that the change is attainable.
  10. Work with Supervisors – Communication and training are not only vital for employees whose roles are changing, but with front-line supervisors as well. If supervisors are not aware of changes to their employees, they are not able to coach employees in new roles or hold them accountable for new responsibilities.
  11. Assess "People" Readiness – Before most changes are implemented, organizations have a "go/no go" milestone. This decision is based upon successful process validations or system tests. You should also assess the readiness of people for the change. Measure training effectiveness through certifications, quizzes or self-assessments.
  12. Support Employees Throughout the Change – The most important item of all is to build the infrastructure needed to sustain change. Understand that change will take time and help employees work through initial fear or frustrations with new roles or responsibilities. Reward and recognize desired changes and behaviors.

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