Change – most of us dread change. We are uncertain of the impact change will have on our lives and we often doubt the benefits of change. Yet, working in innovation, our organization goal is to create change. Frequently, as a new product or service is launched, hindsight minimizes the impact of the change. In light of success, the changes weren’t so bad after all.
Managing change in new product development (NPD) projects is expected. Of course, risk is minimized throughout the staged and gated NPD process, but innovation work often follows a path that is indirect with many unanticipated routes and dead-ends. Project leaders must ensure change is implemented effectively while still making significant progress in the development work.
Project managers can use three tips to manage change. As we discussed last time at the Idea Incubator blog, listening is the primary tool to ensure a successful change management initiative. This week, we’ll address transparency and we’ll concludes this three-part series next time with a discussion of business processes to help change management.
Windows are transparent – we can see through them to gain a view of the outside world. Curtains, on the other hand, are opaque. They block our view and we can only guess at what might be on the other side.
Project managers must assure team members’ of emotional stability during significant change occurring in the organization. Individuals often feel threated by such organizational changes. They are uncertain how a change will impact their power and influence, social relationships at work, and even if they’ll have a job or not. Being as transparent as possible can help the leader to knock down barriers to change.
Hierarchy of Needs
Recall the management theory of the Hierarchy of Needs introduced by Abraham Maslow. At the lowest level are basic needs: food, clothing, and shelter. The next level includes safety and security, including job stability, regular pay, and lack of hazards on the job. When a serious change is introduced at an organization, many individuals will revert to this level, questioning how the change will impact their employment status, salary, and promotional opportunities.
The third level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs defines belonging or social networks. Many team members will describe their work groups as “almost like a family”. It’s not hard to imagine the emotional impact of a forced split of family members. Thus, a project leader must be aware of natural, psychological, and sociological responses to change that can threaten team members’ security and belonging needs.
While a project leader will almost certainly recognize tensions introduced by change, most are ineffective at managing change. Communication is the tool of choice to help team members understand the impact of a change and to reassure individuals of a stable future stat. Transparency in communication can be the turning point between a successful change effort and a disastrous failure.
My personal rule of thumb is that if you think you’re over-communicating, you’re probably communicating at just about the right frequency and level. Because we are engrossed in our own situations and discuss the issues in detail with small groups of consultants, we often believe we’ve talked a lot about the topic. But, devising the strategy, is completely different than sharing the strategy.
While the change process is being developed, project manager should honestly communicate to team members that a change is coming. Being transparent in communication means providing details when they are available. When information is not available or cannot be shared broadly, then the project manager should honestly explain hat such data is unavailable. Being transparent in communication builds trust, alleviates fear of the unknown, and leads to smoother transitions.
Maintaining trust among project leaders and team members during a change management effort is crucial to success. Robert Rosenfeld describes two kinds of trust: intellectual trust and emotional trust. Much of simple project work is accomplished on the level of intellectual trust. “I know you have a degree and years of experience as a designer; therefore, I trust that you can do the work.”
In contrast, emotional trust is necessary to be successful in situations with a high degree of uncertainty. Many radical NPD projects require integrated cross-functional team efforts where the outcomes are unknown. In these circumstances, the project leader must ensure that steps are taken to build emotional trust as well as intellectual trust. S/he can lead by example with transparent and honest communication regarding change management.
Transparency for Change Management
Transparency in change management starts with the project leader. Communication must be honest and forthright. S/he should share all available information. When change data is not available, the project leader must be honest in order to build trust among the team members.
Team members are concerned about their security and social needs during changes. Project leaders can ensure appropriate levels and frequency of communication by assuming a simple rule of thumb: if you think you’re over-communicating, it’s probably about the right level of communication. Project change is managed by three simple tools including listening, transparency, and business processes. To learn more about change management, please join us for a project management or engineering leadership workshop.
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