Ocean waves

Overcoming change management challenges in the workplace

Confidently riding the waves of change

4 minute read
Ocean waves

When it comes to organisational change, it can be a scary thought to think your workplace could be flipped on its head.

However, when change comes knocking, a managed approach can soothe any worries and put strategies to ensure an organisation’s change is smooth sailing.

River Fig Consulting Owner and AIM WA Course Facilitator Laura Alvin AFAIM said change management could look very different in a workplace, depending on the type of change and how the organisation was prepared for it.

“If it is planned change being driven externally, such as new government regulations, and the business is prepared for it, change can simply be a well-organised, non-threatening systematic process by which an organisation takes steps ahead of time and is ready to adapt,” she said.

“If, however, an organisation is not forward thinking and finds itself on the back foot when faced with change, it can be quite unsettling and can create a destabilising ripple effect through the business.”

Ms Alvin said that an organisation initiating a new way of doing things to improve the workplace was an example of an internally driven change.

“If it is done in a systematic process, and the organisation has dedicated people and resources ready to help manage that change, it has the same effect as giving your whole home a makeover,” she said.

“Your organisation is refreshed and ready for the change because it wasn’t a destabilising exercise – it was a reaffirming, confidence-building exercise.”

Managing change in a workplace

When managing change within a workplace, Ms Alvin said some of the biggest challenges organisations would face were poor planning and unrealistic timelines.

“The majority of organisational changes that fail do so because the time it takes to successfully manage the change is underestimated,” she said.

“Effective change management is systematic.

“To successfully estimate the time required for a change to become permanent, each step in the process must be understood and taken into account.

“To be successful, this timing includes fully understanding the whole process, what the obstacles are, how much time and resources are needed to communicate the reasons for the change, educating stakeholders around the change process and implementation, as well as reinforcing and correcting any problems that emerge during the process.”

Ms Alvin said it was important for an organisation to remember how long change could take and to be aware of competing demands for managers’ time.

“A business may plan well for an implementation of a change, but might not understand that the people driving the change may be distracted by another workplace crisis or demand,” she said.

Small to Medium Enterprise Australia Chief Executive Officer Dean Logan said there was a common theme bridging change management in any business no matter its size.

“Senior executives and company or business owners desperately want change but are rarely brave enough to embrace it.” 

“As a result, the workforce will struggle to embrace the change management process if they believe the executives or owners don’t genuinely believe in it," he said.

“Another key challenge is discipline – the key is to adopt a strategy, stick to it, set goals and measure milestones.

“The workforce deserves and desperately wants this to occur, especially if they are asked to buy into the process.”

Keeping your change management plan match fit

Ms Alvin said it was important for an organisation to be aware of both the need for change and the need to dedicate time to build that awareness among all stakeholders.

“Dedicating some planning time to build the awareness, either through team meetings or regular strategising sessions will create ownership and understanding of the options,” she said.

“When you are talking about planned change, having a process or a roadmap is essential.

“It can be as simple as ensuring the stakeholders understand the four basic steps for the change.

“Those four steps are knowing what the desired end point is, identifying your potential obstacles, understanding the business case driving the change and understanding the realistic constraints of an organisation to face the change.”

The benefits of change management

Mr Logan said when done well, change management could transform the lives of employees and the workplace.

“When employees see senior leaders committed to change, employees can become invigorated,” he said.

“When toxic elements are held accountable, great people within the organisation can rise to the top.

“When it is done right, an organisation can retain staff and the outside world can view the business as an employer of choice.

“When you reach this point, it’s then and only then, that you are in a position to strive for and drive excellence.”

Ms Alvin said change management, as opposed to change itself, could elevate an organisation to a point where change was not scary but welcomed.

“It is where workers and stakeholders feel confident in their ability to, at a minimum, effectively adapt to change and, at the maximum, embrace change and allow it to take their business to a greater degree of outreach, efficiency, productivity and positive internal culture,” she said.

“Change does not mean an organisation changes what or who it is, but rather it can help to keep those unique selling points as relevant and effective as possible in a world that is evolving.”