The market shifts. New business goals are established or technologies introduced. A crisis emerges that has everyone trying to keep up.
Change in all its forms is an inevitable part of doing business--and empowering change begins with a foundation of people, processes and tools. But to create the best path through and ensure that you continue to thrive, you need to draw on proven change management principles that align the organization and keep it moving forward.
What is Change Management?
Change management involves the approach, techniques and tools you use to prepare your organization for change and to guide them through it. Change, after all, is a process in itself--and one that affects every area of business. As such, it needs to be approached thoughtfully, with the right plan in place, to be successful.
Why is Change Management Important?
Even when it's done right, change can be intimidating. When done wrong, or too quickly, it can become a source of confusion and fear. Yet the process around change can often be undervalued by the executive team and can lack commitment throughout the organization as a whole. It can be mismanaged, initiated without proper due diligence, brought on too late or activated without proper planning.
As part of the finance team, you have the opportunity to set the tone and to build commitment around the process of change, ensuring the right plan is in place and making sure it's executed properly--then playing a pivotal role at every point.
That's where change management comes in.
The Change Management Process
1. Determine Your Vision
For change to resonate and take hold, there has to first be a solid reason for it--a vision that's agreed upon by everyone involved and communicated company-wide. Change just for the sake of change will fizzle out before it even gets started--no one's looking for a make-work project--so a clear purpose is key to driving it through successfully and a strong plan of action integral to ensuring it meets that vision in the end.
The best projects are transparent and incremental, treating change like a marathon, not a sprint. Building short and medium-term goals along the way can help ensure success and making sure everyone has access to the same information will keep them all on the same path. But more important than anything is a shared end goal that can act as a finish line for the entire process, aligning everyone towards the same objective and making sure they all have the same expectations going forward.
2. Identify and Listen to Your Stakeholders
Once that vision is in place, the next step is identifying and communicating with stakeholders at all levels of the company (and sometimes beyond). Having the right people on board is key to the success of any change management project and to ensuring that the organization is aligned at every stage. A stakeholder plan will help determine the process of how change will be introduced and who needs to be involved to make it happen--from end users all the way up to the CEO.
After all, the success of any new idea is reliant on your organization's willingness to institute that change. The most successful programs also understand the emotions that change can inspire--getting stakeholder support will start to mitigate fear and confusion and create a culture that celebrates change rather than dreads it. That endeavor continues with the next step of building a team.
3. Build a Team to Facilitate Change
For real change to happen, it has to be an organization-wide undertaking with champions in every department. That means interacting with individuals at every level of the organization--and not just en masse. Group communications can help make sure the message gets through, but don't take into consideration the individual struggles, insecurities or frustrations that are a common part of change.
Facilitating this type of one-on-one communication as well as the listening and collaboration required with it relies on a team. A cross-departmental team will take the cue of the project's stakeholders and go from there, helping to anticipate problems at all levels and prepare for customer reactions. Bringing in more people earlier in the process so that every part of the organization has a voice can also create a deeper and wider-held commitment to the process underway.
4. Support Change While It's Happening
A common objective, well laid out vision and the right team are all integral to initiating change. For that change to take hold, though, you need to monitor and support it while it's underway. This ensures it's staying on course and helps you identify any resistance, risks or new challenges that come up along the way and do whatever is necessary to mitigate those circumstances as they happen.
Making ongoing adjustments while the project is in progress may also be necessary. Those adjustments could be around the technology solutions being used or with the processes in play, to keep things moving forward efficiently and intelligently in ways that fit the business goals. It's the right combination of processes and technology that will ultimately move an organization forward successfully towards the finish line. And of course, people are integral at this stage too--driving those process and technology decisions.
Identifying and Rationalizing Your Data
Data should be a driving factor at every stage of change, fueling your decision making and helping teams identify trends and insights to guide the change ahead. It empowers data-driven storytelling and lets key stakeholders better visualize where the company has been, where it is now and where it's going. As the main source of trusted data within the company, the finance team is especially pivotal in providing that data, making sense of it and turning it into meaningful insights and strategic direction.
Yet no organization's data is perfect. In fact, it's often messy and disconnected, hard to get to and difficult to translate into meaningful information. Which is why any change management process is reliant on connecting disparate data sources and making the right data accessible and usable. That means consolidating financial and non-financial data together for a consistent view, eliminating duplicate data or data that's not usable and mapping the lineage of data points. Doing so builds a data foundation and helps you glean the information necessary to drive the change management process and build towards business growth.
Reaching the Change Management Finish Line
With proper buy-in and the right processes, people and technology in place, change can be manageable--whether it emerges from within your company or outside of it. But it requires a smart plan of action, the right data and a shared objective to truly get off the ground and thrive. With all the right components in place, change management can be transformational, putting your business on a new path that will see them through today and forward into the future.
Change doesn't happen overnight. Even with all of the right pieces in place, it takes continual planning, monitoring and communication to be successful. And the finance team can play a critical role in leading the way.