When Management or Strategy Changes, You Need a Plan

American airmen receive instruction prior to a mission from an advanced U.S. air base on the Tunisian front in 1943 Photograph by Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Most of us would rather tackle “the devil we know” than face the unknown. This unknown may hold the promise of untold riches and opportunities, but we still side with the known devil—even to our own detriment. The unknown has the potential to be a scary place; this is why we fear change and find it so difficult to embrace, influence, and sometimes even react properly to it.

Recently, we worked with a custom fabrication shop in Texas that produces high-endurance machinery but struggles with timeliness and initial quality issues. Even with new senior management, the problems persisted. The company continued to lose customers and was in serious peril. Changes needed to be made for its continued viability, but a fear pervaded the workforce. What will change, and who will change? What does that mean for my job? Will I still have a job? Am I too set in my ways to change? Maybe it’s just the economy and there’s nothing we can do, so why change anything?

We knew if the employees hoped to successfully influence and/or react to change, they would need a plan. Planning is the most critical step in change management; it doesn’t matter if that change is personal or professional. Without a well-designed plan, including one that aims to understand root causes, the likelihood of successful change was doubtful. This plan also included a formal risk assessment.

Successful planning requires information. The shop’s employees needed to know who, what, why, where, when, and how. We made special efforts to gather this information while doing our best to eliminate the impact of their emotions. Emotional bias can really cloud objective fact-gathering and planning. This is especially critical with change management. We had to try to gather information and plan with as much objectivity as possible. The single best way is through polling trusted friends, colleagues, and, in our case, former customers. Once the employees were willing to listen to outside opinions and the reasoning behind them, they were that much closer to an objective plan. This plan will greatly reduce the unknowns, leading to greater confidence and less fear of moving forward.

Even with these steps we might not be able to influence every change in all circumstances, but we can certainly control our reactions to them. By not allowing the shop to accept a resignation to their fate, the employees were able to take ownership and have moved toward a renewed viability. When confronted with change, we don’t have to accept “It is what it is.” Rather, “It is what we make it to be.”

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