Krativitätstechniken, Hirn mit Rädern

Key points in brief:

  • Reactions to change can vary and can sometimes be very emotional. Companies need to be prepared for this.
  • It is easier to implement change processes at SMEs, as they are more agile and flexible.
  • Employees have to be actively involved in the change process as early as possible.
  • Keeping tabs on each milestone achieved is important for the motivation of everyone involved.

In these fast-moving times, companies have to deal with change on a continuous basis. Change is important, as it is only through change that further development and growth are possible. Change can range from small adjustments in specific areas to all-encompassing corporate transformations. The reasons are often external in nature, for example market changes, competitive and innovation pressure or technological developments. Change can, however, also come from within: new successor solutions, problems in recruiting skilled professionals or general unease owing to a difficult corporate climate, for example.

The challenge: the emotional component of change

The term change management denotes the implementation of selected measures aimed at bringing about far-reaching change within departments or across entire organizations and moving from an initial starting situation to a defined target state.

It is human nature to experience difficulty with change. Studies have revealed that responses to a change process are emotional in 90 percent of cases, with only 10 percent relating to the issue at hand itself. This makes it all the more important to closely monitor change projects.

The basis: a joint “yes to change”

Generally speaking, small and medium-sized companies find it easier to implement change processes. They have fewer hierarchical levels and are thus more agile and flexible. Employees often work closer together in small teams, promoting a sense of team spirit and the willingness to tackle challenges together. Last but not least, managers at smaller companies often know their employees better, making it easier to recognize and respond to individual needs.

Achieving successful change: eight tips

Nevertheless, it is also relevant for SMEs to ensure that changes are backed by everyone in the company and that no resistance is provoked. Philipp Mähr, owner of a consulting firm that specializes in change processes, can look back on more than 30 years of experience in change management and has valuable tips on how to get the workforce on board and successfully implement a change at a company.

1. Performing a thorough analysis

The more detailed the preliminary analysis, the more targeted and successful the change will be. Only a comprehensive internal company analysis makes it possible to precisely identify the need for transformation and determine the right course of action. If you opt to work with an external change management specialist, this preliminary work will save time and money. The next step is to perform a force-field analysis. This tool helps to understand the various influences on the planned change. It differentiates between those forces that drive change and those that slow it down. The analysis provides in-depth insights into the dynamics that could impact the change process and supports companies in shifting the balance of power in favor of achieving successful change.

2. Clear communication of the reasons for change

“Change process” and “transformation” are both terms that can stir up a sense of unease in employees. This is despite the fact, or maybe even because, it is often not really clear what is behind the change. Rather than throwing buzzwords around, it is better to name the change and to explain the aim of the measure: “We need to adjust our product portfolio so that we stand out from the competition”, “we need to reorganize our working processes in order to become more productive”, or “we are merging our company with XY as only together will we be in a position to offer what the market demands”.

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3. Involve people as early as possible

A basic rule of change management is to involve people in the change process and the company’s development as early as possible. Clear communication helps everyone involved to understand the need for change. It is this understanding that is key to acceptance. What is more, the opportunity to have a say provides people with motivation to actively contribute to making the change a success. However, a word of caution: when decisions have been finalized, this should also be communicated. Fake participation can leave a bad feeling. Large group workshops, such as a world café, can be a good way to involve as many people as possible and gather their ideas and wishes. This method involves openly discussing pre-defined issues in a relaxed café atmosphere and visualizing the results directly on the tablecloths.

4. Putting a change team together

A key step in the change management process is the formation of a change team. Individuals who enjoy the trust of the workforce and have a feel for what others are thinking are ideal for this role. There are various way to go about identifying these people within an organization. Instead of going through lengthy selection processes, it often makes more sense and is quicker to allow the individual teams to choose a representative themselves. By adopting this approach, trust is already sealed at the time the selection is made. Change teams that are set up in this manner are not only motivated to work on the change, but also fulfil the tasks of ensuring an effective communication channel to the workforce.

5. No communication provides a breeding ground for rumors

After each meeting, the team members decide together what is to be communicated and how and where. Rumors are fueled by uncertainty. In order to prevent rumors developing, it is therefore important to communicate everything that is already clear quickly and not to wait until every last detail has been defined. In the case of information that is not yet ready to be finalized, it helps to specify a binding date. This boosts credibility and also prevents tasks from being pushed back and, in the worst case scenario, the project coming to nothing.

6. The roadmap – don’t aim for too much at once

During the course of a change process, companies have a tendency to want to change everything at once, very much in keeping with the motto “let’s go the whole hog”. This often doesn't prove to be expedient. Change management always means additional work. Day-to-day business continues as usual and customers want to be taken care of. With good planning (usually referred to as a roadmap), it is ensured that a synchronized step-by-step approach is taken and the organization thus doesn't find itself overstretched. Keeping at it is more important than wanting to change everything from the ground up right away – change should not be seen as a one-off event, but rather as a constant process.

7. What we don't measure often remains undone

Achieving milestones is absolutely key for ensuring the motivation and energy of everyone involved. They should therefore be monitored very closely – almost relentlessly. Quantitative goals are often not a problem, while qualitative objectives such as the company’s working atmosphere can now be kept tabs on very efficiently using the increasingly popular pulse surveys. Experience has shown that the energy and commitment levels of everyone involved increase noticeably prior to measurement dates.

8. Utilize external expertise

SMEs, in particular, often opt against involving an expert in their change processes. The advantages of drawing on external support speak for themselves: professional change managers contribute specialist knowledge and experience, understand the complexity of change and the interactions it involves and are familiar with proven methods for making the transition as smooth as possible. They are also in a position to offer an objective and unbiased perspective and to help in developing clear and convincing messages to promote acceptance among employees. It is definitely worth talking to an expert in order to gain an idea of what impact the change in question may have on your organization. The best way to find appropriate change management professionals is through recommendations from your own network.

In summary, it can be said that change management is a complex yet rewarding process. By involving employees and management staff at an early stage, appointing a competent change team, establishing a good roadmap and ensuring honest communication, companies can master the challenges posed by change. Investing in change management pays off in the long run, as it ensures the adaptability and competitiveness of your company. It represents an investment in the company’s development – and thus in its future.

How UBS can support you

Whatever you might be dealing with in your day-to-day business, be sure to talk to us. We will not only offer you advice on financial matters, but also put you in touch with external experts and specialists from our network to support you in overcoming your challenges.

Among our clients, we are observing how major changes are taking place within companies, especially in connection with succession planning. In such instances, we can support you with comprehensive advisory services – from drawing up a contingency plan for the worst-case scenario to the handing over of your company within the family or as part of an external sale.

Take the self-test to find out where you stand with your succession arrangements or get individual advice from a UBS expert.

Our tip for you is to familiarize yourself with the topic of owner strategy. The process sees owners document their personal relationship with the company and the principles they apply to corporate governance. In the case of family companies that are grown over the course of generations, in particular, an owner strategy is not something that is nice to have, it is essential. The same applies to start-ups with several co-founders and external investors and correspondingly complex ownership structures.

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Philipp Mähr

Philipp Mähr has a doctorate in economics more than 30 years of professional experience. After holding various other consulting positions, he founded his own consultancy firm under the name of Mähr Consulting in 2014. The company is based in St. Gallen and specializes in transformation processes that are accompanied by workshops, specialist coaching and consulting. Mähr Consulting provides support throughout the entire change process and beyond, right up to the point that the change in question becomes firmly anchored as part of the company’s DNA.

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