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When life circumstances cause a family to uproot and move, parents play a big role in minimizing the impact of the move by talking their children through the process and explaining the pros and cons.

Parents may attempt to involve their children in the decision making. Temporary solutions, like using bribes and the popular phrase, “Because I said so,” never satisfies a child for long. To achieve lasting buy in, parents may allow their kids to make minor decisions, like choosing their room and the paint color. However small the choices, the resulting morale boost is invaluable.

During preparation for the move, parents may help their children prioritize. If the parent walks into a five-year-old’s room and tells him to pack everything in boxes, not much will get accomplished. Rather, the parent may hand the young child a few boxes and tell him to pack up everything from his drawers. Thirty minutes later, the parent may check progress and congratulate the child on his success. When he is ready, the parent brings in a few more boxes and asks him to pack up his toys in his closet. This process continues until everything is packed up and the move has been successfully completed.

Parents leading the family through a move can be compared with leaders directing an organization through change.

Leaders help staff navigate unfamiliar terrain and provide the confidence to make decisions and move forward. As with parenting, there’s no single formula for success. Successful change management teams focus on the people aspects of change and constantly modify their approach to suit the external environment and internal expectations.

There are four basic guidelines a change management team can use to facilitate the change process. These guidelines, when applied artfully, can help a team navigate the precarious steps toward successful change.

1. Put yourself in their shoes

As parents must understand how moving will impact their children’s lives, change management teams must understand their constituents and how an organization change will have residual effects on them.

While specific knowledge about the business is essential, the real way to fully understand stakeholders is to be present and communicate with them directly.

Understanding involves meeting with a full department or traveling to numerous field locations to discuss how each facility conducts day-to-day operations.

For instance, we recently worked with a field services company where each of the fifteen field offices believed that they had a unique process for capturing drilling information. Upon visiting each office, we realized the basic processes were nearly identical, though each location had slight variations. Further analysis revealed that many variances were due to obsolete, historical requirements which no longer applied to the organization. Rather than assume congruency based on the word of a single department or location, the change management team took the time to understand the perspective of each group.

2. Communicate

Many organizations rely on a monthly newsletter as the primary means of communicating change updates. However, sending a newsletter alone is not a sufficient means of communicating with stakeholders. We find that most stakeholders do not take the time to read the contents. If they do, they don’t often understand the context. It’s pivotal to involve all stakeholders.

Face-to-face communication is more impactful than a phone call, and a phone call can be more personal than an e-mail. It’s best to avoid blanket emails as the primary means of communication. Communication should be as personal as possible. Change management teams should pick up the phone and call stakeholders throughout the change process, not just when information is needed.

Don’t be afraid to ask how the maintenance supervisor’s son’s football game went. When visiting field offices, take the time to let managers show off the new equipment they are using. These practices will build rapport while simultaneously gathering knowledge critical to the change’s success.

Finally, hold conference calls at key milestones. The calls should be brief but allow attendees to candidly ask questions and give feedback. A steady line of live communication is an imperative step in stakeholders’ understanding what is needed for successful change.

3. Let them have input

When moving to a new house, a parent wouldn’t let the youngest child pick out their room but assign rooms to the rest of the kids. Avoiding favoritism and limiting input applies to organization change as well. Situations will arise when a quick call is made to the closest or favored field office to answer a question. Most likely, the questions can be answered in a single communication with the nearby field office.

But why stop there?

Headquarters may consistently reach out to the nearest field office to gather field data, greatly adding to the work load of the nearby office. Rather than feeling helpful and valuable, the closest field office has the impression of being singled out and grows weary of the constant requests. This tendency to contact a particular office creates tension and discourages the input of other offices. The additional effort to reach out to the other business units engages stakeholders, allowing them to feel they are heard and their opinion matters.

When someone gives a suggestion that has the slightest impact on the project, the chances of accepting the new changes increase substantially.

Feeling heard and appreciated creates loyalty and accelerates the change process. Even when someone gives thoughtful input that’s not implemented in the project, they should be told why. If possible, tie the volunteered idea to one that was actually implemented, recognizing the input and encouraging continued ideas. As a project progresses, provide more and more feedback for the direction of ideas, making the best use of stakeholder’s time.

4. Prioritize (choose wisely)

There’s a fine line between keeping constituents engaged and burdening them with excessive work. Communication should be frequent, personal, and conversations should be as short and simple as possible to relay the right information.

During most change projects, the executives and project teams often forget employees have full-time day jobs. Just as parents would help their kids prioritize packing, change management teams should do the same for organizational stakeholders. It’s easy to target a small group of knowledgeable employees, constantly barraging them with questions. Prior to asking questions, consider: what is truly essential, who is the right person to ask, and how much of their time will this take?

Change management teams must be cognizant of the difference between asking for input to keep someone engaged and asking someone to perform work that requires significant time.

Strategy for Success

Change management is as much an art as it is a science—workable with simple solutions. It’s critical to place oneself in the constituent’s shoes, communicate, allow stakeholders to have input, and prioritize. To ensure a smooth transition, change management teams must have strong guiding principles and remain flexible throughout the project.

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