Engagement, buy-in, advantage of ecosystem, value extraction, transition supports, and change management are just a few of the terms that come to mind when considering organizational change. I never thought much of change management until I became a Workplace Wellness Strategist.

I loved quoting, “The only thing that is inevitable in life is change,” without realizing how difficult change can be for some people. Now, as a change agent, I’ve learned that it’s not enough for change to be inevitable; we need to critically manage the transition by adopting great principles like identifying the different stages of readiness, adopting best practices, and executing with the awareness and required firmness for successful outcomes.

Like the saying, “to each his own,” is what change means to different people and situations. If the meaning of change depends on circumstance, one can expect reactions to change and types of change management approaches to differ.

A project manager may consider change management as obtaining authorization to modify a project’s scope, schedule, or budget. An infrastructure expert may consider change management as the procedure for obtaining approval for experimenting and installing equipment, including the methods and ethics required to obtain permission and make the changes a project or an operating environment needs. The two scenarios seemingly look easy as the change primarily affects inanimate objects. However, when managing a change of attitude, behavior, values, or culture, change management becomes more cumbersome and unpredictable. In this article, I will be examining change management in the workplace.

Four principles guide organizational change: comprehensiveness, disruptions, universality, and indetermination. These principles reveal the undeniable nature of change. Comprehensiveness indicates how important it is for employees to fully understand the need for workplace change. It answers the questions of what, why, where, when, and how. However, disruption is envisaged because human nature and other circumstances may not necessarily allow for easy acceptance of change, even if it’s comprehended. This disruption is the imbalance that occurs before change finally takes place. Disruption is often fueled by how well and quickly people adjust to the change, how smooth the transition process is, and how equipped the change agents are to drive the cause. The principle of universality, on the other hand, ensures employees buy into the purpose of the change for it to be effective and sustainable.

The fourth principle of organizational change, which is indetermination, points out a fundamental characteristic, which is the fact that change cannot be fully controlled but best guided. It helps us see change as a coach and not a referee.

Considering the nature of organizational change discussed above, it’s critical for change agents to understand and appreciate that adopting a workplace program is often marked by employees’ readiness to accept, internalize, and participate. According to McKenzie, Geiger & Thackery, a priority population’s readiness level can be categorized into five groups: the innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. Based on research, innovators constitute about just two percent of the workforce that quickly accept and adopt change. They usually do this because they want to be known as the first to sign up for the program. Not necessarily because they’ve weighed the pros and cons but because they are adventurous, independent, and venturesome. The second category of employees marked by readiness to accept change is the early adopters. Constituting fourteen percent of the priority population, they are interested in the organizational change but would not sign up first. They usually wait until the innovators get involved because they strongly believe in safety in numbers; otherwise, they will not go alone. They also bank on the innovators’ buy-in to ensure the program has enough backing to contribute to its usefulness. Even though the early majority shares the same proportion as the late majority at thirty-four percent each, they are surprisingly interested in the organizational change but need an extra push, external persuasion, or incentive to become involved. They love to ponder and weigh the pros and cons before deciding.

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On the contrary, due to skepticism, the late adopters require more work to obtain their buy-in. They often do not accept change or adopt new programs until most colleagues have done so. Some of the best ways to get them involved are through a peer mentoring system and constant exposure to the program’s purpose. Laggards come last regarding acceptance rate, often constituting sixteen percent of the workforce. They are usually not interested in innovation and would be the last to show interest in new ways of doing things. They are very conservative and suspicious of change or anything new. Notably, the proportional representation of these categories may change over time due to diffusion brought about by the distinguishing traits of people in each type of adopter.

There is no gainsaying that there are many interestingly useful change management models, such as the McKinsey 7-S, Kotter’s Change Management Theory, ADKAR, Nudge Theory, and Bridges Transition Model, amongst many others. However, I love to mention Kurt Lewin’s Model of change for teaching purposes. Arguably, it is the first standardized model to identify three stages of the change process: unfreezing, movement or changing, and refreezing. This process involves creating a perception that change is needed and inevitable for the organization’s growth, which may also be crucial to its survival. Awareness is critical and useful in managing natural human reactions to change, such as resistance, fear, discomfort, anger, shock, resentment, feelings of loss, and even apathy. Creating awareness of how the current level of acceptance, i.e., the status quo, is hindering the organization in some way is crucial. To show employees how necessary the change is to remain competitive in the marketplace, old behaviors, ways of thinking, processes, people, and organizational structure must be carefully examined. Communicating the logic behind the desired change alongside its benefits to employees cannot be overemphasized. The more employees know about the change, the more they feel it is necessary and urgent, and the more motivated they are to accept it.

This article will be incomplete without mentioning VUCA, which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. These four terms encapsulate how rapid and unpredictable change is in our world today. Today’s change is violent, uncontrollable, unpredictable, chaotic, and disruptive. For survival, business leaders need to turn VUCA to their advantage.

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If you are a leader who would like to turn VUCA to your advantage, please send an email to [email protected].

Opaleye, a wellbeing specialist and corporate wellness strategist, writes from Lagos