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10 etiquette tips for successful change management

by Jennifer Shutwell
 

"The only thing that is constant is change." - Heraclitis

Anything living is always changing until the day it dies — even in organizations. So why is there such a high rate of perceived failure when it comes to managing organizational change?

Research over the years by both John Kotter and McKinsey1 reveals that “only 30 percent of change programs succeed.” We better improve our average now, because in the new world of work, the pace of change is only increasing — and it’s affecting the very foundations of the business world. Look at the sharing economy or “collaborative consumption” business models.

While no one can predict exactly what will happen next, we do know change is happening faster — and businesses need to have visibility and be ready and able to direct or respond. Here are ten etiquette tips for effective change management:
 

​While no one can predict exactly what will happen next, we do know change is happening faster — and businesses need to have visibility and be ready and able to direct or respond.

1. Simplify change

Change is about people being willing to embrace something different. It’s tempting to see change as a straight line, but people are complex. A change within your business will have multiple impacts in many directions at all times. So try to break down the change into individual stages, and deal with any issues that arise with relation to those unique areas. 
 

2. Create your own framework 

There are a lot of change management models out there. Look to outside sources that can help you design or adapt a model that will work for your company, based on your needs and scale appropriately. 
 

3. Forget the past tense 

Companies often refer to change as a thing of the past. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a sentence start with “When we went through our change last year …” But remember: You and your organization are always in a state of change. It doesn’t stop, so neither should you. 
 

4. Pay attention to the “lean” 

An important part of change management is keeping an eye on which way people are leaning, both at the micro and macro levels. If the high-level lean is forward, you’re driving change. But if the lean is backwards, there is too much resistance. Find where the resistance is anchored, and work from there to build awareness, answer questions and address issues and fears. 
 

5. Ask for help 

Because change is unpredictable, you have to recognize when you need help from members of the team and management. And if you’re seeing persistent resistance to the change, perhaps your direction is off and you need to change course. 
 

6. Be flexible

Having flexibility dramatically increases your odds of success. Forcing yourself to rigidly adhere to a plan made six months ago, when you had only a speculative view of the situation on the ground, is not a good change management policy — and can be disastrous in the new world of work. 
 

7. Be decisive

Use a combination of facts, figures and gut feelings with making decisions, and do so in a timely fashion. Remember, data alone will not tell the whole story. Your internal feelings will guide you. And keep in mind that not making a decision is making a decision. 
 

8. Change from the inside out 

There are no acquisitions that will fix your lagging business model. Change comes from within, and it begins with company leaders. 
 

9. Communicate and listen without judgment 

It’s incredibly difficult to overcome adversity when people know what’s going wrong but don’t feel comfortable speaking up. So make them feel comfortable. It can be tricky, but it’s so important. The more people feel supported and safe to communicate their issues, the more you will know how things are really going throughout your organization. 
 

10. Balance idealism and realism 

Be realistic when managing change. Sometimes perspectives can drift towards idealism and lose touch with reality. When driving change, it’s important to stay grounded and not get caught up in what may happen or what could happen.

And here’s a bonus tip — every once in a while, I fool myself into thinking that I can change others. But no one can change another person. People have to be willing to change themselves for change to be successful.

Regardless of where you are in the continuum of change, I hope you feel supported in the new world of work. If not, I hope that these etiquette tips give you some relief.

The pace of change is increasing

If you don’t have a change management plan in place, there’s never a better time to start than right now. 
 
Jennifer Shutwell
Jennifer Shutwell is CEO and President of Shutwell Dynamics Inc. and an accomplished business executive with more than 20 years of experience in the imaging and printing industry. From running her own company to managing customer relationships for large organizations, Jennifer is skilled with simplifying the complex and assisting with transformation strategies. 
 
 
1 Carolyn Aiken and Scott Keller. "The irrational side of change management." April 2009. McKinsey Quarterly. http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/the-irrational-side-of-change-management