A comprehensive guide to employee-driven change management

Kevin Shuler, CEO of workflow consultancy Quandary Consulting Group, below presents a guide on transformational change management.

What is change management?

In short, change management is the process of making change happen in an organization. It starts with identifying a problem and ends with deploying and testing a solution. And it involves managing expectations and both employee and business needs. 

There are generally two types of organizational change: 

  • Adaptive changes: These tend to be small changes that happen over time as a business grows. Improving filing systems, hiring out additional personnel to manage increasing demands, and developing new operating procedures for employees.
  • Transformational changes: These are large-scale changes that require an investment of time and money into new systems that restructure how business happens.  

Adaptive changes tend to have far less pushback than transformational changes. That’s because there’s more risk involved with transformational change. They take more time and money and the payout isn’t always guaranteed.  

Still, they’re often more essential to scaling a business. And if done properly, they can help boost bottom lines while giving employees more time to focus on tasks that really matter.  

But they’re not always easy to bring about. If you want to start a transformative change in your business, follow these seven steps to manage that process. 

Step 1: Fight fear 

Change only happens with action. And problems only get worse when you avoid them. You need to feel encouraged to act if you’re going to bring about change. Still, a lot of people are averse to change or confrontation. The fear of getting in trouble or drawing attention to yourself for pointing out a problem can be enough to keep you from acting. 

Unless your work in a toxic environment, identifying problems should be encouraged. So, you shouldn’t fear retaliation for pointing out inadequacies. And if you do work in a toxic environment, but want to make suggestions to improve it, look for ways to anonymously send in suggestions.  

This will give you a voice without making you a target. 

Step 2: Focus on solutions 

Pointing out problems without suggesting solutions can come off as complaining or being negative. It’s one thing to point out flaws, but an entirely different thing to come up with ways to fix them.  

When you approach others with flaws and no solutions, it tends to give the impression that you’re pushing the real work off of them. Most likely, they’re just as busy as everyone else in your company. And the thought of more work might irritate them. In the end, they may “yeah-yeah” you, nodding to what you say, only to ignore the problem and move on.  

Instead, quickly point out the problem, then focus on solutions. You want to show those in charge that you’ve done your homework. This makes it harder to ignore the issue. Plus, with a good chunk of the work done (remember, figuring out a solution is the hardest part), it’s more likely that change can happen.  

One way to be more effective with the change management process is to perform a cost/benefit analysis. Point out the cost of the problems for the company and how building a better solution or streamlining the workflow will save everyone time and money.  

It’s important to note that any change has upfront costs involved. From people’s time to building custom solutions or rethinking workflows, your business will need to invest in a change before they can see the benefits from it. 

Step 3: Find potential solutions

As an employee, this part can be tricky. Depending upon your background and your expertise, you may or may not know of solutions that are out there. Luckily, the workflows in a business are a lot less unique than you may think.  

Most businesses struggle with manual data entry (and the errors that come from it), visualizing data properly, streamlining workflows, and wasting time on menial tasks. Any process that requires paper documents usually struggles with properly documenting and locating that information afterward. 

Basically, every time a real human has a touch-point with a workflow, there’s a risk of a slowdown or problem. Once you understand the challenge, all you need to do. Don’t spend more than an hour on this, especially if you don’t have a background in the solution.  

It’s enough to know that there are solutions out there that can improve the process and get the conversation started. 

Step 4: Align your goals 

If you want your team and your boss on board, you need to make sure that your solution is aligned with their goals. Otherwise, it’ll probably get ignored. Anything that has high risk with little chance of payout or is a problem that isn’t a priority at present will probably get ignored. 

Take a step back and analyze your team’s goals along with management’s. Some employees care more about the company than others. Some just want a paycheck with as little work required as possible (a sad, but true reality). Others just want to be more efficient so they experience less stress and headaches at work. 

Match your team’s problem to your solution. If you do that, you’ll have a much easier time convincing them to get on board. The best way to align your goals with your teams and more effectively navigate the change management process is to quantify results. Tell your team, “We waste X hours a week carrying out this task. If we deployed Y solution, we’d save our team a lot of time we can use to focus on other tasks.”

To maximize the impact, expand the calculated waste over weeks, months, or even years. These multipliers really help you see how painful inefficiencies are. 

A menial task that you waste 1 hour on a day is 5 hours a week, or 250 hours a year. Multiply that by the number of employees carrying out that task and a calculated salary and all of a sudden, the problem becomes a lot more tangible. 

Step 5: Share your solution(s)

Chances are that the most impactful solutions for your business will be some form of integration and automation of existing workflows. But remember, you don’t need to be an expert on technology and programming to pitch a solution. 

Instead, to effectively navigate the change management process, you need to start the conversation. And you need to keep that conversation going. 

To keep that conversation going, you need to know what kind of solutions exist out there. Most likely, there will be more than one. There are tons of platforms and programs out there aimed at helping businesses become more efficient. From low-code and no-code platforms to off-the-shelf applications, you’re bound to find solutions to your problems.  

Spend a little time doing research. Find out the costs of these platforms. Print out some specs or email vital links. And be prepared to discuss these possible solutions on a surface level. Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz.

Step 6: Follow up

People are busy. Effectively navigating the change management process means you need to understand that. The people you work with have their daily tasks to balance and giving them another problem to sort through can add more complexity.  

As a result, your idea (no matter how good it is) might end up getting pushed aside. You have to fight the impulse to get frustrated here. It’s not personal. Instead, it’s a matter of prioritization. Your solution, no matter how good it might be, might not be the most pressing issue. Or, there may not be a budget to investigate and build a better solution. 

Either way, it’s important to follow up. Politely check in after a week or two if you haven’t seen any movement toward improvement. You don’t want to pester, but you also don’t want the problem to be forgotten. 

Step 7: Remember that every problem has a solution

Effectively navigating the change management process means being persistent and flexible. If a change doesn’t appear to be in the works, find out why. Discuss the obstacles that are preventing management from deploying and testing solutions.  

Remember, that for every problem, there’s a potential solution. Whether it’s hiring out a third party to build affordable, custom solutions or it requires shifting people around so that the right people have time to build out new workflows, the problems preventing change from happening to be solved.  

As long as you work as a supporting force for positive change, you can help your organization successfully navigate the change management process. And in the end, you’ll watch bottlenecks break down and inefficient processes melt away. 

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