Saturday, May 8, 2010


Here are some steps to help you prepare to make successful changes in your practice.

Consider this scenario: You walk into your office one day carrying a book on management. Your employees groan, roll their eyes and make snide remarks about change coming to the office. If this has happened to you, it is likely because change has been mishandled in the past.

It’s not unusual for a boss in a financial services practice to impose office-altering changes after he or she reads new books or attends conferences, but the changes often are mismanaged and could have a devastating effect on the firm in the long run.

Most office employees resist change, and some actively fight it. It requires a new learning curve. It means a loss of productivity during the learning phase and it means a disruption in daily activities. Therefore, unless there is an overwhelming reason for change, most employees will be uncomfortable with it.

Some employees may feel threatened by change. This may be a reaction to a loss of control or a perception that their job is going to go away once the change is effected. For this reason and others, implementing change in an office environment requires careful preparation and sensitivity to the perception of those who will be affected by it.

You cannot sell change to your employees. Selling change to employees is not a sustainable strategy for success. When office workers listen to the boss “selling them” on some revolutionary new way of doing things, most will smile and appear to accept the news, but quietly to themselves are saying, “No way is this going to work.”

Change needs to be understood and managed in a co-operative environment. Instead of selling change, the owner or manager should be focused on being a settling influence as change is introduced. Firm owners and/or managers need to check that people affected by change agree with or at least understand the need for it, have a chance to decide how it will be managed, and to be involved in the planning and implementation.

What if change needs to be made quickly? If change is needed quickly, the first step is to probe the reasons why. Is the urgency real? Will the effects of agreeing to a more reasonable timeframe be more disastrous than trying to push through a quick change? Quick changes often lead to problems later, including but not limited to employee acceptance and adherence. Change of any sort needs to be fully explained and justified in order to get buy-in.

For most change to be successful, creating a sense of ownership is necessary. The simple fact is that conventional organizational change, which typically involves training and development (and ‘motivation’) frequently fails. It fails because employees look at things differently than owners and managers. Some bosses actually believe that people who are paid to do a job should do what they are told to do. Imposing change on people doesn’t work because:

• it assumes that the employee’s personal aims and wishes are aligned with those of the organization or that there is no need for such alignment.

• it assumes that the employee wants the type of change that the firm deems appropriate for them.

Instead of imposing change on your employees, you should consider exploring ways to align the aims of the business with the needs of your employees. This does not mean that because you consulted with your employees before and during change that you are handing over the firm to them. The reason to consult with your staff is that it saves you from yourself and your own wrong assumptions.

Consulting with them gives you and them a chance to fully explore and understand the implications and feasibility of what you think needs to change. And, it gives your employees the opportunity to see things from both sides and may just open the door to some very good ideas for doing things better than you could have thought up all by yourself. In fact, it helps you to see things from both sides, too.

Often, organizations have enacted change without fully engaging the employees in the process because they perceive that there is not enough time to reassess and realign aims and values or that change is a response to some crisis. Crisis, though, is no excuse for compromising integrity or short-circuiting respect for the views of your employees. Crisis should be a wake-up call to enact change carefully and is the best reason to re-align your aims and consult with your staff on that change. When a firm is in crisis mode, the employees are almost always okay with doing what it takes to “right the ship.”

How do you enact change? Change should be handled as a project and managed accordingly. This means developing the conditions, variables and consequences of change. It also means enlisting your employees in the process of change through a thoughtful, considerate schedule that takes into account what needs to be done to successfully enact the change given the limitations and schedule implications to those employees who will ultimately have to deal with a transition. Project management takes into account a series of activities that leads to a successful outcome or change in the firm.
Building a project requires some skill. Apart from using project management software, there are practical considerations to incorporate into the planning process. Here are four steps to consider:

1. Setting goals is usually the first, most logical step. What do you hope to accomplish with the change in your office? When do you hope to accomplish it? This might involve a strategic planning-type meeting with staff to develop ideas and share insights. Using a third-party consultant, for instance, to facilitate discussions with staff on change can further distance you from the negative role of persuader.

2. Setting the roles and responsibilities is usually the second step. Who is responsible for what and how do you decide who is accountable?

3. Setting a timeline for successful completion of the project, for instance, could be the third step. Whether you develop advanced Gantt charts that illustrate the timeline or not, success does not depend on fancy graphics, but simple, clear communication of the timeline.

4. Set up a measurement system to determine how successful the firm is in making the change(s) and whether the result matched the expectations.
Involving your staff in every step of the change process will greatly improve the chances of success. Try to remember before enacting change that change for sake of change alone is largely useless. To be successful, a firm does not need to jump on every new trend or idea that comes around. Carefully evaluating those trends or ideas in light of a firm’s vision, values and the resulting benefit to the client goes a long way toward determining the validity of making a change.

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