Managing change in the workplace - 4 key steps to incremental change

Managing change within "Business as Usual"

In managing change in the workplace [and having already drawn the important distinction between incremental change and step change] there are 4 key steps to implementing incremental change within business as usual; and doing so with processes that work for people.

However, before we look at those 4 steps in detail it is helpful to see them in context.

managing change in the workplace,change management,change managers,change management training

# The current UK status of managing change in the workplace

managing change in the workplace,change management,change managers,change management training

I appreciate that 70% of the visitors to this site are non-UK, however I sense that many of the issues we face here in the UK may be shared to some extent in other countries and cultures.

The current state of managing change in the workplace and change leadership in UK businesses is currently reactive to issues that show up on the board’s radar rather than driven by strategic intent and innovation.

This, and the following observations, are based on analysis of recent surveys and supported by my own research and experiences.

Currently the UK top three drivers for change are:

(1) Increased efficiency
(2) Cost reduction
(3) Corporate restructure

Essentially this is all about stripping out cost rather than innovation to create added customer value.


All the evidence shows that UK change programmes are frequently badly thought out, managing change in the workplace is poorly executed and many do not succeed in achieving their stated objectives. The responsibility for this lies predominantly with the directors and senior management.

The main reason for this is the UK culture of “short-termism” where monthly and quarterly targets drive companies.

The direct effect of this is that the focus in managing change in the workplace is nearly always on getting the quickest return by fixing the most obvious and glaring problems.

This focus on quick fixes often reflects a lack of investment in the organisation in the first place. So change is seen as a sort of “magical toolkit” that will somehow get them through the aspect of managing change in the workplace they don’t like handling – the people issues - so that they can get to the aspect they do like handling - which is the money.

This also reflects the all too frequent lack of clarity of what the change initiative is intended to deliver, and a "business case" for change based on knee-jerk reactions.

Whereas the reality is that managing change in the workplace is really all about being able to deal with complexity and "messiness" - with many stakeholders simultaneously - and dealing with a multiplicity of different views of the issues facing the company and how to deal with them!

Change is imposed from the top-down

Given that these are change programmes that will have a direct and probably negative impact on employees - with possible job losses, and that the remaining staff will be expected to do more and work harder – they are understandably viewed with suspicion and concern across the organisation.

In too many organisations, managing change in the workplace amounts to change being imposed from the top-down, there is little if any consideration given to the need and business benefit of winning hearts and minds.

So the majority on the receiving end of these edicts spend most of their time doing just enough to “be seen to be wanting” to comply but in reality resisting the change and despising and resenting those “on high” who impose this stuff on them.

So when implementing change and managing change in the workplace directors and senior managers sacrifice the needs and feelings of their employees in the interests of keeping their shareholders happy.

This is reflected in the research that shows that two of the top five biggest mistakes that occur in change in UK companies are to do with staff issues, and this is closely followed by weaknesses identified amongst senior managers.

Negative assessment of the role of senior management

This short sightedness is ultimately counterproductive because if change programmes are badly handled – as so many are – then the chance of failure is greater. Furthermore, they can cause more damage to the morale of the company, and thus have a negative effect on future competitiveness.

Research shows a negative assessment of the role senior management play in helping to achieve the end goals of change initiatives. More than 50% feel that senior management fail specifically in inspiring the workforce, managing change in the workplace and providing effective leadership.

The evidence suggests that senior executives lack basic understanding of the aims of business transformation initiatives and specifically their roles as sponsors; and also are lacking in many of the core skills expected of leaders and that are vital for the implementation of change.

Yet despite this, there is a widely shared belief that good executive sponsorship is key in helping a change programme to deliver competitive advantage to a business.

The tide has turned against the major management consultancies

Despite the fact the “change industry” is a multi-billion pound business for UK consultancies, the tide has finally turned against the major blue-chip management consultancies, in terms of perception of “value for money”.

The majority of businesses planning a major change programme prefer to use their own internal resource, or drafting in experts to either fill knowledge gaps or manage the entire process if required.

Summary conclusion

In summary, research findings indicate that all too often, UK companies embark upon change on a reactive and “knee-jerk” basis to protect them, rather than with desire to innovate and improve.

The tragic result of all this is that too many UK change initiatives suffer from a lack of vision, bad management skills and are generally under resourced, which leads to a poor reception from workers and ultimately a large number of failed programmes. What's your experience - in your company, country or culture?

One excellent research survey "The Challenge of Change" was conducted by UK based Executives Online and was compiled using research conducted amongst almost 200 businesses from across the UK, questioning senior managers responsible for change or business transformation programmes, and more than 400 interim managers.

# 4 key steps to incremental change

In managing change in the workplace it is extremely important to draw the distinction between incremental change and step change.

Whilst the broad principles of leading and managing change in the workplace are universal it is very important to establish very early on whether or not what you are proposing can be regarded as incremental change and realistically can be accomplished within the constraints of business as usual, or not.

If it can not be accomplished within business as usual, then it is a "step change" and needs to be handled as a specific initiative - with the appropriate level of senior sponsorship and practical support of a structured programme management based process.

The bulk of the content of this site addresses "step change" - i.e. change which needs to be handled outside of the constraints of business as usual. For an overview of the key aspects of "step change" covered in this site I refer you to:

How to manage change- Executive summary - How to put it all together

Incremental change within "business as usual"

In this section, I am going to address managing change in the workplace as incremental change, that is, change within the context of business as usual.

Given that the single biggest reason for the astonishingly high 70% failure rate of ALL business change initiatives has been the over-emphasis on process rather than people coupled with the failure to take full account of the impact of change on those people who are most impacted by it. So clearly the approach that I am recommending has to address this with processes that work for people.

Here are the 4 key steps to managing incremental change in the workplace:

(1) Clarity in all areas

    Before going anywhere with a proposed change you need to have pristine clarity with regard to:

    • The business need for the change

    • The specifics of the change

    • The benefits of the change

    • Most importantly the impacts of the change

I recommend that you consider carefully each of the following questions:

  • How's it going to be different when I've made the change?

  • Why am I doing this - how's it going to benefit me?

  • How will I know it's benefited me?

  • Who's it going to affect and how will they react?

  • What can I do to get them "on side"?

  • What risks and issues do I have to face?

  • What steps do I have to take to make the changes and get the benefit?

  • How am I going to manage all this so that it happens and I succeed?

(2) Consistent leadership

Change management guru John Kotter suggests that in successfully managing change in the workplace, 75% of a company's management needs to "buy into" the change. So convincing people that the change is necessary is extremely important.

This will require strong leadership and visible support from key people within your organization. Managing change isn't enough - you have to lead it.

So managing change in the workplace also requires leadership that is visible and leadership that is consistent in all aspects of the way in which you lead the change as well as how you manage the situation, handle the communication, and ensure the realisation of the benefits of the change.

Addressing the emotional impacts of your change

The single biggest aspect of your leadership will be how you address the emotional rather than the rational aspects of the change.

Many thought leaders in the world of change management and change leadership are now speaking vociferously about the importance of the emotional dimension of leadership and the need to address the human dimension of managing change in the workplace

Leadership thought leader and management guru William Bridges [who focuses on the emotional and psychological impact and the transition aspects of change] offers these 3 simple questions:

(1) What is changing?

Put together a short clear statement of under 60 seconds duration that summarises why the change is necessary and your intentions – what organisational benefit you hope to realise.

(2) What will actually be different because of the change?

Tell them exactly and precisely where and how things will be different after the change.

(3) Who's going to lose what?

Don’t “gloss over” or attempt to minimise or trivialise what they will lose and have to let go of. Be direct, honest and empathic in your truthful recognition of what the impact of your change will mean for them.

You will gain more respect and minimise mistrust by being truthful. This prepares the ground for the practical hands on aspects of managing change in the workplace and specifically the support that you will be providing to translate your “change concept” into a tangible organisational benefit.

Leadership Styles - What is most effective in leading change?

(3) Constant communication

You can never “over communicate” in leading and managing change in the workplace and especially with regard to what is happening or not happening and why.

This is also a communication process that listens actively and demonstrates to people that you have thought through the impacts of the change on them, and that you are prepared to work with them through the transition of managing change in the workplace, and that you will help make it work for them.

Emotional resonance

In terms of the emotional resonance aspect of your communications, remember Martin Luther King who did not stand up in front of the Lincoln Memorial and say:

"I have a great strategy" and illustrate it with 10 good reasons why it was a good strategy. He said those immortal words: "I have a dream," and then he proceeded to show the people what his dream was - he illustrated his picture of the future and did so in a way that had high emotional impact.

    5 guiding principles of a good communication process for managing change in the workplace

    • Clarity of message - to ensure relevance and recognition

    • Resonance of message - the emotional tone and delivery of the message

    • Accurate targeting - to reach the right people with the right message

    • Timing schedule - to achieve timely targeting of messages

    • Feedback process - to ensure genuine two way communication

How to communicate effectively in the workplace

(4) Capability and resources

This is about ensuring that your people have the full resources and capabilities they need to support them thro the change.

At the macro level and when dealing with step change this means employing a programme management based approach to change - because:

(1) It is holistic and takes a wider perspective.

(2) It focuses you on addressing issues and aspects that otherwise get overlooked.

(3) It addresses the people impacts and issues arising as a direct and indirect result of your change initiative.

Methodologies for Managing Step Change

At the micro - day to day management level:

Incremental change = translating vision and strategy into actionable steps

As leader of the change, you now face the equally if not more difficult challenge of getting the staff to deliver your new change idea and achieve the organisational benefits that you anticipate.

The reality is that people are very different in the ways they process information, interpret life, and in the ways they are motivated. Many (probably most) of them are not able to make the leap from hearing and understanding your vision and strategy to translating that into purposeful productive action.

This does not mean that they don't understand it, or agree with it, but it does simply mean that the leap is too great for most people to make - without practical assistance.

So this means that managing change in the workplace requires hands-on detailed management in the specifics of how to do it, and especially during the early stages.

It is up to you to define and communicate those actionable steps, and to manage your people through the process of implementing and integrating those steps as the new modus operandi. In summary:

Incremental change = Translating vision and strategy into actionable steps

  • Define

  • Communicate

  • Manage

  • Implement

  • Integrate

  • Adopt

Getting things done

"It's just about setting out in a logical way, day after day, to do the things you know need to be done to make the customer feel good. It's not sophisticated and it's not complicated, but it's amazing how often it doesn't happen." Sir Gerry Robinson

managing change in the workplace,change management,change managers,change management training Leadership, cultural analysis and change models alone will not deliver the benefits of your change initiative. As leader of the change, you face the challenge of getting your people to do whatever it is that is required to deliver your change initiative, to achieve the organizational benefits that you anticipate.

This is addressed in the "Practitioners Masterclass" which takes a holistic view of the key areas and shows you how to put all this into practise.

At the practical level, the Practitioners' Masterclass focuses on the hands-on management of people, at the task level, where things get done.

Organisational change is inseparable from personal change

John Kotter has said that the scale and pace of change that is impacting organisations now is such that it cannot often be planned for and it increasingly pushes leaders (and followers) beyond their own capacity to handle it.

This scale and pace of change requires adaptive solutions.

However, an adaptive response to change is only possible when we have either the personal capacity to do this, or have the self improvement resources to help us.

The inherent (and flawed) assumption in most training and work-related attempts at encouraging personal change (in support of organisational change) is that it is skills based, in other words we can be taught to change.

Whilst it is true that we can be taught, generally we won't change.

We can't change because of our "immunity to change" or inner resistance.

Managing Personal Change - Resources HERE

Check these links:

Barriers to effective communication - Do you feel it?

Effective workplace communication - Say what you mean

Open Space Technology - How to create inspired meetings

How to give negative feedback - Without destroying the other person

Toxic leadership - How to spot it and how to avoid it

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practitioners masterclass,change management training,change managers,change management

practitioners masterclass,change management training,change managers,change management

practitioners masterclass,change management training,change managers,change management

practitioners masterclass,change management training,change managers,change management

practitioners masterclass,change management training,change managers,change management

change management,change managers,change management training