How to use change management to drive organizational results

Andy Cook | February 16, 2018

If you’ve recently attempted to introduce knowledge sharing into your organization, or even if you’re in the middle of doing so, you’ve probably realized that it’s not as easy as you initially thought.

Knowledge sharing creates sustainable competitive advantage. But having the intent to introduce it to your organization is only the beginning of the battle. The real challenge comes when you have to navigate the various barriers preventing it from being a success, such as:

  • Departmental silos
  • A lack of transparency across team or casual conversations
  • Employee turnover

This begs the question, are there any ways that you can successfully introduce a knowledge sharing solution without causing undue disruption or risking a significant waste of resources and energy in attempting to make it happen?

You’ll be glad to hear that the answer is yes, and it involves the use of change management.

What is change management?

If you’re unfamiliar with change management it’s pretty much what it says on the tin – the management of change that is due to occur in an organization. A typical scenario at an organizational level occurs when a new CEO comes in and changes the structure of the company.

It might seem like an easy feat to accomplish, but it’s not. Turning around an organization is just like trying to change direction in a battleship. You can crank the wheel around as fast as you want, but it takes a long time to actually change course.

Take Satya Nadella’s reorganization of Microsoft as a recent example. Nadella undertook a major restructuring of the company in order to reduce the destructive internal competition. Products no longer existed as separate groups, but rather the entire company begins focusing on a limited set of common goals relating to productivity, an intelligent cloud platform, and personal computing. By doing so, Nadella achieved what Steve Ballmer and even Bill Gates couldn’t – to point Microsoft, as a company, in one direction.

Why is managing change so tough?

The process of introducing knowledge sharing is literally ‘change’ in a nutshell. When you introduce knowledge sharing it will be hard to predict how your employees, and the organization as a whole, react to the change, making it tough to manage.

It’s hard to even predict how people will react to the smallest of changes that shouldn’t overly impact their daily life. If your job is primarily to act as a knowledge conduit, connecting people together, and all the sudden there’s a mandate from up top that people should be connecting on their own, what do you do for a job now? In a modern organization, you’ll probably find another role doing something more productive that drives the organization’s goals in a more meaningful way. Change management doesn’t mean eliminating people. It means empowering them to work on their very best work.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that 70% of change management strategies fail at an organizational level when it’s hard to control how we react to matters outside of work. It’s hard for people to change, especially if they’ve been in the same role comfortably for years. But the reality is that the world is moving so fast now that only the most adaptable organizations will survive. Change and managing that change is necessary to keep up in today’s modern economy.

What factors influence the way we react to change?

The Boston Consulting Group investigated change management, and their research identified four factors that help to explain why change is so difficult to manage; also known as the DICE framework. They were:

  1. Duration: The longer the period of change does not necessarily correlate to a decreased success rate
  2. Integrity: The extent to which the organization can rely on their managers and employees to ensure that the change is implemented
  3. Commitment: Organizations need to have the support from both c-level executives and the employees who will be impacted by the change.
  4. Effort: Taking into account the current workloads of employees, is it wise to ask them to carry out changes in processes or their roles which may require additional hours?

Calculating out your initiatives DICE score is a leading indicator of whether or not your change management plans will succeed or fail. The framework also allows you to evaluate how well your change management strategies are working across the entire organization in an objective way. It’s recommended that you figure out your DICE score before you start any change management initiative.

How to manage the change of introducing knowledge sharing

There are steps that organizations can take to support the management of change. Let’s keep using the introduction of knowledge sharing as our example. Here’s a workflow you can use to manage change in your organization:

1. Build your case for change management

Make the case for why change management would help during the introduction of knowledge sharing. Understanding now what the concerns of employees and c-level executives are will reduce the risk of resistance to change later. Also, encourage employees who will be affected by the change to share their ideas. Involve people in the initial exploratory process, document your findings as you go, and share early and often. Blind-siding people with a new initiative without any sort of heads up or input is never a good idea. It can sometimes be embarrassing to share a half-baked concept, but if people can follow along and see your progress, they’ll be much more likely to get on board as you go.

The worst case scenario is that people dislike the new idea so much that you have to give it up, but at least you find out early before wasting months of time on a plan that was doomed to fail from the start.

2. Get your leaders and stakeholder to commit to change

As identified in the Boston Consulting Group research above, change needs to receive support from both the leadership and the employees who will be affected most by the incoming change. You’ll often find that change can be introduced more easily if there are “champions” internally promoting it. Get at least one internal champion on the executive team to help you formulate your idea and promote it to the other leaders in the organization.

For example, have you ever received a referral link from a family member or friend recommending that you sign-up for an event or service? You almost feel compelled to follow through with the request purely because you were recommended it by someone you trust. This is social proof in action. It works for consumer products, and it works in professional organizations too. This can carry over to the workplace where you trust and respect colleagues from a professional standpoint.

If a senior leader backs your idea, their lending all their credibility to your project by backing it. That’ll help you make a case that it’s a good idea to everyone else.

3. Set out clear communication channels

The way in which you choose to communicate the change to those affected can have an impact on its chances of success. The communication has to be clear, consistent, and when needed, firm. Try to address key questions initially, such as:

  • Why we have to do this?
  • How do we know when we’ve achieved our goal?
  • How do we do this/how do we achieve our goal?
  • What you need to do to make this possible

Lastly, time was mentioned as one of the key factors that can make the management of change difficult for organizations. When it comes to knowledge sharing, it is going to take time, so don’t expect your employees to be knowledge sharing gurus overnight. It’s going to take internal training, communication and plenty of grit to make a huge change in your organization. But if you persevere and get more people internally excited, the battleship will start to turn and you’ll find yourself on a new course eventually.