Once a company’s management team recognizes the need to make changes in order to grow the business, stay ahead of the competition or simply survive, it is faced with the daunting task of making those changes happen. This generally starts with a process of convincing the workforce that change is necessary. Employees will respond in one of three ways.
Some employees will not be convinced and will resist any and all change. Such employees may believe that the company has been successful in the past and will always be successful, no matter what. To these employees, change is disruptive, offers little benefit for the effort involved and should be fought at all cost. I call these employees “The Helpless.”
The second group of employees will not fight change, it will not necessarily promote change, either. This group will go along with whatever management tells it to do. If they are given clearly defined tasks and much guidance, then they will follow the leader and be a part of any program of change. I call these employees “The Helped.”
The third group, usually the smallest of the three, is made up of employees who can develop ideas that promote change. These employees are always trying to figure out a better way of doing things. They understand the importance of continuous improvement and view it not as something management would like to have, but something the company needs to have. These employees are “The Helpers” in the organization and are the most critical to the effective implementation of change.
Once management has made the case for change, implementation must begin as quickly as possible. At this point, management’s role is to promote change by demonstrating commitment and holding people accountable.
Commitment requires a clear understanding of what needs to be done and a willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed. Commitment supports change; without it, change is simply a wish that is unlikely to be achieved. Commitment is demonstrated with both words and actions. Managers must clearly be out front, supporting the change by doing whatever they can to help. We have all encountered the leader who only appears to be committed. The message is delivered, but the actions sometimes take a back seat. This leads to frustration in the workforce and, if repeated often enough, can have a devastating effect on even the simplest of changes.
Real commitment requires tough decisions. In any change, you can be sure there will be resource constraints (pointed out by “The Helpless”). Handling such constraints may require creative solutions (generally offered by “The Helpers”). At times, decisions need to be made that may hinder progress on the change. When this happens, it is best to communicate openly with everyone involved to ensure that they realize the overall commitment is still strong, despite the setback (this is especially important to “The Helped”). If you are not going to be committed to a certain change, then don’t pursue that change. There are too many “flavor of the month” examples that went awry to discount the importance of commitment in bringing about change in an organization.
Accountability is just as important as commitment. Some managers make the mistake of trying to forge change themselves, thinking they can do things better and faster. However, managers will get better results by relying on other committed individuals (usually “The Helpers,” but also some of “The Helped”), then holding them accountable.
Simply put, accountability is doing what you say you will do. Holding others accountable means following up with those people to be sure things are being done. It requires a willingness to spend time with others and see whether commitments really are workable. Perhaps most importantly, it requires providing support when difficult decisions are needed. A manager who develops any plan for change must periodically review the plan to see how it’s going and support corrective action when required. Plans should be visible and must be updated continually by those who are accountable. The manager who forgets to follow up gives the appearance of losing interest, so people feel less accountable as time passes. Accountability provides a sense of importance, and it is rewarding to see that our actions made a difference in improving the company.
Without commitment and accountability, we may find that “The Helpless” continue to resist, “The Helped” side more and more with the “The Helpless” and “The Helpers” decide to look for challenges elsewhere.