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5 tips for managing rapid change

Mar 23, 2020

Anyone who has studied business is familiar with change management, and most companies have procedures for implementing new software, merging or making other major adjustments. But what if you’re forced to change in a hurry?

Today, it’s the COVID-19 virus that’s forcing rapid change. But maybe tomorrow it’s a cyberattack or hurricane that might hit your office.

It isn’t only a disaster that can force quick change. As technology innovation accelerates, you might need to revamp products or procedures sooner than expected to stay competitive. Nearly three-fourths of executives predict significant disruption in the next three years, compared to just 26 percent in 2018, according to a survey by HR consulting firm Mercer.

When you don’t have the luxury of deliberating for months and rolling out changes gradually, every step you take has dramatic consequences. You need outstanding communications and teamwork to succeed. Here are five tips for navigating the rough waters.

1. Start with a great model

One of the best methodologies for change management is Prosci’s ADKAR model. The acronym stands for the following:

  • Awareness for the need to change
  • Desire to support the change
  • Knowledge of how to implement the change
  • Ability to demonstrate the change’s effect
  • Reinforcement to make the change stick

When fast change is imperative, there’s less need to dwell on Awareness and Desire — most people understand the need for urgency. After making the aware of the change, concentrate on the remaining steps, which include preparing for, managing, and reinforcing your changes.

2. Always have a plan

As you formulate a plan, keep stakeholders front and center. That means everyone who will experience the change, but especially those directly affected. You need to understand how they will be impacted and try to see the change from their perspective.

When you develop a communication and support plan, appoint someone whom the stakeholders trust and respect—someone who speaks their language—to explain it to them. You might need different leaders for different stakeholder groups.

Select communication channels stakeholders prefer, and send messages early and often.

3. Communicate where it matters

When change is precipitated by a crisis, it’s especially tempting for executives to enforce mandates. Even under normal circumstances, over 80 percent of organizations manage change from the top down, according to Gartner. Yet Gartner’s worldwide survey found the best organizations rely on their employees, rather than executives, to make change work.

Of course, change requires leadership. But don’t make the critical mistake of neglecting input from midlevel managers and supervisors. They are the ones who will be scheduling training and answering questions from workers whose livelihood depends on getting the new procedures right.

If workers have questions that their boss can’t answer, they might understandably feel threatened. Your project could lose credibility even before it gets off the ground.

To prevent failure, have managers track all questions and report those they can’t answer. If you don’t know the answers, explain where you are in the process and when you expect to know more. Without going into detail, you might want to mention some of the factors guiding your decisions. Make sure managers disseminate the information.

Frequent, honest communication makes everyone in the organization feel they’re in the same boat. When people have a stake in the project, they’ll want to help it succeed.

4. Reinforce change

Successful change involves more than implementing a new system on time and in budget. To ensure successful adoption, you need to follow up. For example, if you helped employees relocate, they might need extra time to get to work, or extra help to use remote technology.  

Hold frequent check-ins with supervisors to see how staffers are handling the changes. If you encounter resistance, find out why. Though nobody likes their cheese moved, some complaints might reveal problems you need to fix. New software comes with built-in tracking, so set it for the metrics you value.

5. Celebrate success

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate success, and not just for the project as a whole. If a team creates innovations with the new system, publicize their achievements. Success stories build morale and help people cope with the stress that change inevitably brings.


Deron J. Kling
Senior Manager
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