Even the most successful businesses can’t afford to stagnate by relying on the same technology, ideas and strategies that have worked in years past. Upper management may be in charge of the big changes that alter the course of the business, but many of the day-to-day operations are in the hands of the employees.
Sometimes, it is these employees who come up with the best and most creative ideas, helping the business keep up with the times. If you don’t know how to make change happen within your organization, consider these dos and don’ts below.
How to make changes at work
1. Understand what you want.
Whatever the idea, whether it’s suggesting new technology or proposing a rebrand, it must be developed and realistic. Simply saying, “We should use a new social media platform,” for example, isn’t enough. Which social media platform? Who would be in charge of it? And will it make a difference for the business?
Ask yourself enough questions about your idea to make sure you fully understand it. You may decide that the idea may not be worth the time or effort to pitch it.
2. Test the waters.
Any idea you bring to upper management should first have strong support from your co-workers, especially those who would be affected by the change, and any senior members of the organization who will have a say in approval.
- Get co-worker support. Co-worker support is vital, as change must be supported by numbers. Speak with co-workers about the idea (leaving out the specifics) to see if they would be on board with the change.
- Get senior-level support. Set up a meeting with your direct supervisor and, if possible, another influential member of the organization. This is where you can begin selling your idea. Refrain from gossiping, bashing or otherwise complaining about the organization; engage with your supervisors productively to see if they show interest in your idea. This may help you identify drawbacks you may have not seen or questions you must answer when you prepare your pitch.
3. Build your plan.
A good idea needs a good plan. Before you set up the meeting to pitch your idea, examine all possible angles.
- Timeline: How long will this take to implement?
- Budget: How much will it cost?
- Requirements: What do you need from the company to make the change happen?
- Payoff: How will this help the organization?
The last consideration is one of the most important ones. When you are pitching in the meeting, think about what the audience, in particular, will gain from your idea. If someone is in charge of budgeting for the department, for example, they may be interested in an idea that can save the company money and make their job easier.
4. Anticipate resistance.
If you’ve already spoken with your supervisor or another higher-level executive of the organization, you may have already experienced some resistance to your idea. It’s not that upper management doesn’t want to hear your ideas or make changes within the organization; they simply have eyes on many different aspects of the business, and many ideas end up costing more than they are worth.
People often use one of four strategies, according to the book Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down by John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead, to turn down an idea: delaying the approval process so that it remains forever in limbo, asking unnecessarily detailed questions, inciting anxiety or fear, and launching personal attacks.
Anticipate these tactics before your meeting, and have answers at the ready. Answer questions concisely and with confidence. Stumbling over words or rambling at length can make it appear like you don’t know the answers at all.
5. Give a great presentation.
It is imperative to set up an official meeting to speak with upper management, as emails and phone calls are easily ignored. The meeting should involve your direct supervisor and any executives with whom you had previously spoken about the idea, in addition to key people in the organization who have sway in the department.
If you’ve anticipated the resistance, you’ll be able to answer any questions and feel more confident with your presentation. However, don’t go overboard with numbers and data. Offering irrelevant information can confuse the attendees, which could make them feel ignorant for not understanding. It can also obfuscate your idea.
In addition, answer all questions posed by the attendees even if the query may seem negative. Presenting yourself as confident and open to criticism can only strengthen your idea.
6. Celebrate your success – or keep trying.
If your idea isn’t approved, don’t be disappointed. It can be difficult to make change happen within an organization; you can continue finding ways to make positive changes and work on your methods of getting your ideas approved.
If you do succeed, make sure to thank those who helped you get there. Change within an establishment takes a lot of work and follow-through, and often requires the help of a lot of people. Show your appreciation for their belief in your idea and how they empower employees like you, and keep bringing ideas to the table to keep the business moving forward.
Don’t be afraid to speak up as an employee. Your voice matters just as much as your manager’s.
What not to do when implementing changes
If you’re a manager implementing company changes, avoid these mistakes in the process.
Failing to explain the purpose and need for change
Change can be scary and intimidating for employees, especially if they don’t understand why it’s happening and how it will affect them. How you implement change can impact your company culture. When presenting your idea, you must focus on what’s driving this change and highlight its benefits to the business.
For instance, the proposed change might streamline tedious tasks, freeing up employees’ time and allowing them to flourish in their areas of expertise and interest. Communicate this message with enthusiasm, and make yourself available to answer any questions or address any concerns that might arise. Offer to work with higher-ups to hold a companywide meeting to go over these changes, send out memos that detail the next steps, and be as detailed as possible when explaining the overall process.
Not providing the resources to support your employees through change
It takes time to adjust to change. When discussing your ideas for change, present ways you plan to guide employees through new initiatives, and provide them with the proper resources to support their growth. Ask team managers to give everyone enough time to process the change and adapt accordingly.
Also consider providing coaching or tools that will assist employees on their journey through this change. For example, if you alter systems or software, don’t expect employees to understand how to use it. Rather, offer the proper training and be patient with them as they learn.
The last thing you want is for employees to feel like managers are throwing them to the wolves. Consider how you can alleviate their stress and guide them through these changes.
Being vague about your vision for the company
While you might think it will soften the blow, being vague about the changes you’re looking to implement will only cause confusion and anxiety among your team. Be detailed and excited when explaining your vision for the company’s future. Your team will appreciate your passion and thoughtfulness.
How is this change going to affect and improve the company? In what ways will day-to-day operations shift? What will the business look like a year from now, after these changes take full effect? Answer these questions comprehensively, and remain open to any other queries your team or managers may have.
Neglecting to follow an action plan
Action plans can alleviate anxiety and confusion about your business’s future. After communicating your vision for the future of the company, you must provide an action plan to your team so that you’re all on the same page. A step-by-step guide keeps you on track and making progress toward your goals. Otherwise, the day-to-day shuffle may mar the changes you’d like to implement.
Draft an action plan with higher-ups in your company, and share it with your team. Beyond that, offer to continue to check in on your progress as a company to ensure that employees are carrying out your initiatives. Full company support is crucial in the implementation of changes.
As a leader, you need to communicate with and support your employees when making changes of any sort in your company. Make yourself available to all questions and concerns they might have. You’re on the same team, so work together.
When you should make changes at work
There are many reasons to push for change in a company. Here are some situations that call for changes:
- You’re using outdated technology. Newer, more effective technology, software, or services can increase efficiency and save money.
- You’re undergoing a merger or acquisition. Mergers and acquisitions can turn a company on its head; changes might be necessary to ease the transition.
- Positive leadership is lacking. If the current leadership negatively impacts company morale, it’s time to push for change, whether it’s calling for more communication or a new leader.
- You’re in a time of crisis. A crisis can trigger an array of issues and concerns in a company. Often, to cope with a crisis, companies must shift gears and adapt to changing circumstances.
- You need to update policies. Keep company policies up to date to ensure you’re not operating by old models.
All of these instances call for change. While you might feel like you don’t have a say if you aren’t a manager, you have as much right as anyone to speak up and voice your ideas. You just need to do it strategically.
Lisa Cozad contributed to the writing and research in this article.