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Change Management: The First Step is Communication

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I’ve been thinking about change a lot lately. Businesses change all the time. As individuals, we change too. Whether we’re talking about big or small changes, we’re always dealing with one at any given moment in time. On some level, goal setting and resolutions are about creating change.

But one thing I’m noticing about change is that people want it to happen without communicating all of the details on the front end. Here’s an example:

Employee:  “I would love for my company to implement INSERT NEW PROGRAM HERE.” 

Me:                “Well, have you discussed it with anyone? What did they say?” 

Employee:   “Oh, I haven’t talked with them. They won’t listen to me.”

Now, I know you have the same response in your head as I do. “How can anyone listen if you don’t talk with them?!” The same holds true when managers ask a senior executive to sponsor or champion a project. We want the executive to support the initiative, but we don’t take the time to communicate their role. 

I recently had the chance to attend the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) virtual seminar on “Change Management: Leading Successful Transformations”. The seminar was conducted by Todd Brodie, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP. Brodie did a nice job of taking what could be a very theoretical discussion about change management and sharing practical examples of how organizations can successfully implement change. 

I’m not going to spoil the seminar for you (because you should take it) but one of my takeaways was in the area of communication. Specifically, communicating to project sponsors or champions how they can be most helpful. When it comes to project management, we remember to ask for support. But do we explain what that support looks like? Here are six things we should share:

  1. Why the change is important and where it fits on the priority scale. The first part of this one makes complete sense. In asking for someone’s support, we want them to know the details of the change and why it matters. But let’s face it, this person is being asked to support other projects. In fact, it’s possible we’veasked them to support other projects. Every change initiative cannot be priority number one. Help the person understand where this project lies within all of the other things going on.
  2. How their support (or non-support) impacts the change. There’s a reason you’re asking this person to be the project sponsor or champion. Tell them the reason. It’s only fair. Maybe it’s because of their connection power. Or their expert power. Possibly it has to do with their information power. Whatever the reason, give the person an opportunity to decide they want to use their power for the proposed project. Otherwise, you could be disappointed later when you ask for them to use their power and they say “no”. 
  3. What obstacles might be in the way and how they could help. A project sponsor might ask this, but if not, the topic should be addressed anyway. If you know that there are going to be some challenges along the way, tell the sponsor so they can start thinking about how they can help minimize the impact. Sometimes we don’t know problems until they happen, and everyone has to deal with the surprise. But occasionally, we can anticipate an obstacle and should address it on the front-end.
  4. The names of everyone else involved in the project. As much as we would love to say, “We’re all a team. Rah! Rah!” Office politics can often play a role in projects. It’s possible a person’s support of a project will rest on who is involved. Not only from a personality standpoint, but from a performance standpoint. A sponsor might say, “The only chance we have of this project succeeding is if Jose is on the team.” When you can reply, “I’ve already spoken with Jose and he’s onboard.” That could seal the deal. 
  5. The required time commitment. We have a tendency not to think about this because project champions or sponsors aren’t a part of the project team. But it still involves time. Let the person know when their time will be required so they can decide if they have the time to give. It’s possible that they might ask to negotiate some time so they can support your project AND do other things. 
  6. When they will receive updates about the project. The last thing you want to do is keep your project champion in the dark. They can’t help when they don’t know what’s going on. Find out how often they would like those updates as well as what format. If you’re asking them to help power the project, then be prepared to share information with them on their timetable in the format of their choosing. 
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Projects and change go together like chocolate and peanut butter. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the comparison.) And the fundamentals of project management tell us we need to have an effective project champion. The only way to make that happen is by clearly spelling out their role when we ask for their support. 

P.S. If you’re not aware, SHRM offers seminars on a wide variety of topics as well as a certification prep course. Programs are held in cities all over the U.S. and virtually. For a complete list of program offerings, check out the SHRM Education website. Oh, and don’t forget seminars are pre-approved for professional development credits. 

Society for Human Resource Management logo used with permission.

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About Mildred Blankson

I am a Human Resource Professional with a Masters Degree in Human Resource Management. I have several years of experience in Human Resources and i hope this blog will be a great resource in helping you find the perfect job or candidate that you seek.

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