Understanding the soft – but critical – side of change management

05 Dec 2023


As organizations transform, whether adapting to hybrid work models or implementing new processes like Integrated Business Planning (IBP), the human aspects of change management require thoughtful attention. While the technical elements are crucial, we cannot overlook the critical 'soft' factors that enable teams to embrace change. 

In my experience consulting with numerous companies, I've seen how essential recognition and celebration are during times of transition. Even small gestures to appreciate team membersefforts can have an outsized impact. One recent LinkedIn study found that employees who receive recognition just four times yearly have a 96% chance of staying with that employer. With remote and hybrid work making spontaneous recognition less common, leaders must intentionally praise their teams' progress. 

A few words of affirmation in a meeting, a quick email thanking someone for contributing, or a subtle pat on the shoulder goes a long way. Celebrating completed milestones together – virtually and in person – is also impactful. Demonstrating this human appreciation amid change initiatives boosts morale and retention.

Additionally, many managers were promoted based on domain expertise rather than people management skills. However, implementing organizational change requires deftly motivating team members. Managers must ensure their teams feel supported in adopting new processes and tools. They must listen to concerns non-judgmentally, invite participation in shaping the rollout, and allow time for learning curves. Managers who provide psychological safety for risk-taking and embrace small wins cultivate an environment conducive to change. 


Cross-functional collaboration

Further, cross-functional collaboration is essential, which can be challenging when teams are dispersed. Silos can quickly and easily develop without in-person interactions. However, as IBP demonstrates, breaking down barriers between departments is imperative for organizational alignment. Managers across functions should jointly celebrate shared goals achieved through collaboration. They must also model this cross-team spirit through their own partnerships.

Organizational transformations profoundly impact employees' daily working lives. Understandably, people may initially resist altering ingrained habits. However, communicating openly about the rationale for change and soliciting input creatively can spark renewed energy. 

Multiple clients have shared that their teams demonstrate greater openness to evaluating and improving their processes after working with us. When people see firsthand how changes like IBP generate tangible benefits, skepticism gives way to engagement. Still, managers need to allow time for teams to learn new systems and approach their work differently. Patience and encouragement help sustain momentum. 

These human elements enable change management to succeed. Focusing on relationships, mindsets, and two-way communication has consistently facilitated transformation in my client projects. Even as companies embrace big-picture strategic initiatives, truly supporting employees through the human aspects of change is equally essential. 

Recognizing teams for small wins, fostering interdepartmental bonds, and providing psychological safety nets allow change to take root. Although technical execution is crucial, we must remember that organizational transformation happens one relationship at a time.


Psychological safety

Beyond these broad insights, here are several additional practical tips for managers navigating change:

  • Set clear expectations upfront about timelines, resources available, and measures of success. Ambiguity breeds anxiety that can sabotage change efforts. Be transparent about what will be required and how you will evaluate readiness.
  • Make time for some fun. Lighthearted team bonding activities, even virtually, remind people of their shared humanity. Laughter and social connection replenish the energy needed for change. Managers shouldnt underestimate the power of levity.
  • Check in one-on-one with each direct report regularly. This provides a psychologically safe space for team members to share concerns, ask questions, and feel heard. Take these conversations seriously to address issues early before they escalate.
  • Spot potential barriers and resistance points proactively. Develop contingency plans in advance for hiccups and have responses prepared for the most common anxieties about change that may arise. Vigilance prevents tripping up later.  
  • After a significant milestone, conduct a group retrospective on lessons learned. Collectively discuss what went well, where theres room for improvement and input for future change initiatives. This constructive analysis empowers everyone.

Implementing change seamlessly is rare – expect bumps in the road. However, applying conscientious and empathetic people management approaches enables organizations to navigate turbulence. 

Leaders can guide their teams through uncertainty into positive transformation by valuing technical excellence and human relationships. The 'softactors prove essential for success.

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