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Top 7 Strategies for Virtual Change Management

By Ilkka Mäkitalo on Oct 26, 2020 11:47:32 AM

Are you looking for actionable and effective ways to manage organizational change and development programs in a digital environment? My first pro-tip is: change should never be managed.

I’ve gathered the top strategies from organizational development (OD) consultants and practitioners. 

1. Start with the why

Before you can expect anyone to commit to any organizational development initiative, you must help them understand why it exists and why you’re approaching it in a certain way. The “why” should represent the big picture. 

The most powerful form of “why” supports the purpose of the organization — it is not only rational and based on facts — but also needs to be connected to higher levels of being a human. Storytelling is an excellent way to communicate the why.

It’s important to clearly articulate the “what’s changing” story, to accelerate awareness and understanding. This can be tricky in a remote environment, where you can lose some of that face-to-face connectedness. Utilizing supportive digital tools, regular two-way communication, and more of the strategies below will help to create a positive user experience in a virtual environment.

However, instead of simply sticking to a single "why", you should help people find their own drivers. A single change process will most likely have different outcomes, so why not let people focus on the ones that matter to them the most? 

Even if the why is communicated by the top management, you should leave opportunities for multiple perspectives and personal insights. If you leave the why as "the final single truth," people will easily start resisting it.

That’s why It’s critical to let employees know how they will personally benefit from an initiative—how it will make their jobs easier or help their career development—as well as how it will take the organization to the next level.

 

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2. Invite all stakeholders to help build the strategy

When organizational change strategy and execution are run as two separate streams, you're much more likely to encounter resistance during execution. To avoid that pitfall, invite all stakeholders to share their ideas, hopes, and dreams before you even start crafting the strategy. And remember, that might include customers and other external stakeholders as well.

To do this digitally, create a dedicated digital workspace, so you can cut out all the other noise and distractions, and focus on the initiative at hand. We recommend using a change management platform like Howspace, which was specifically created for organizational development and change programs.  

3. Co-create

That leads me to co-creation. If there’s one key takeaway I’d like you to take from this, it’s to co-create. Co-creation is a strategy that invites practically an entire organization and stakeholders to jointly produce a mutually valued outcome.

As with the previous strategy, start co-creation as early as possible in the process, not just at the implementation phase. 

With traditional change management models, change strategy is reserved for the management team and sometimes external consultants, while the rest of the employees are not invited to the table. As a result, many valuable ideas will never be heard. 

Co-creation calls for participative leadership or collaborative leadership, where all members of an organization work together to make decisions. Co-creation allows employees to affect their own work environment and be part of making meaningful change. These experiences strengthen employees’ self- and collective efficacy as change agents, which is a strong predictor of future performance.

Change is a journey, so it’s crucial to keep everyone involved throughout the process. And keeping people involved doesn't mean you need to have meetings or synchronous collaboration, instead individuals can take part a few minutes here and there on their own accord. Just remember to provide clear instructions on how people can participate. The experience of being part of the journey raises the level of engagement exponentially, and helps prevent individuals from wanting to drop out of the process.

And co-creation doesn’t need to end within your own organization. The power of co-creation can be extended to your customers to ideate, produce, and market products. Companies like Apple, Ikea, Nike, Unilever, and Heineken have successfully engaged their stakeholders (mainly customers) in co-creation initiatives. 

Digital collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom, Trello, and Howspace make co-creation engaging and easy. For more digital collaboration and facilitation tools, check out our Top 25 Digital Facilitation Tools post. 

4. Give everyone a voice

One of the best things about a digital environment is that there is no limit to how many people can participate, where they’re participating from, or when they decide to provide input. However, we can all empathize with how difficult it is to involve each member of a large and diverse organization in any process — let alone a complex and strategic one that involves organizational change and transformation.

This is where a digital environment can really flourish. Utilizing effective communication and collaboration tools gives everyone an opportunity to participate and voice their opinions and ideas. I know that some of my best ideas hit me long after a meeting has ended, after I’ve had time to process all the information. When there’s a central hub for communication, I can voice those ideas at any time, from anywhere, and even directly from my mobile phone. 

People like to collaborate and learn in different ways. To truly involve all individuals within a large and diverse group there needs to be multiple ways to enable participation. By allowing people to communicate not only in person but also in writing, through pictures, and even through video, you’ll be able to truly benefit from everyone’s point of view.

To take it a step further, on certain digital platforms, participants can also be made anonymous. This means even the shyest people can contribute.

On a digital facilitation platform, it’s easy to have small team or ad hoc group discussions, but the real power is utilizing a virtual platform to involve an entire organization. Having a digital facilitator really helps the process as it’s their job to let everyone's voices be heard. 

A prime example of this is when Toronto Change Days wanted to bring together over 80 change professionals from all over the world and create an immersive festival of change, rather than an event with static Powerpoint decks and one-way presentations. 

Howspace was brought in to facilitate the conversations. It was used before the conference to share the agenda and allow facilitators to start engaging with the participants. During the conference people utilized Howspace to participate in discussions and share feedback on workshops. Over the course of the 3-day conference, most participants visited the platform at least once. But it didn’t end there. After the conference ended, Howspace became a venue for sharing insight, and a launchpad for building a community of practice to keep the spirit of the conference alive.

Read the full Toronto Change Days story here.

 

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5. Facilitate, don’t dictate

As I prefaced earlier, change shouldn’t be managed but instead, it should be facilitated. Perhaps the most important skill an OD practitioner can possess is the ability to give a voice to all the participants (case in point strategy #4). In other words, you'll want to guide the conversation and empower individuals to use the chosen digital organizational development platform to drive deep change. 

It can be difficult to create natural dialogue in a virtual meeting. That’s why it is important that the digital platform you choose, provides you the conditions to create a dialogue between the participants in a simple and clear way. Different topics should be kept separate so that everything is not mixed or lost in a single conversation thread.

When discussions get overwhelming, I love leveraging the power of real time AI to quickly make sense of massive amounts of input in dialogues of the change process.

Productive co-creative interaction requires some basic skills from facilitators and participants, but it’s something that can be easily learned. Organizations just need to be willing to make facilitation skills available to employees through training and practice. 

A fantastic way to continually develop your facilitation leader skills is to gather all meeting leaders at a regular cadence to jointly build a common knowledge bank.

6. Be transparent and agile

To implement a change program successfully, communication and transparency are vital but they are some of the toughest issues organizations face.

Trusting people helps to make the organization more trustful and being brave with transparency is an important part of trust building.

Another advantage of a virtual environment is the opportunity to make communication, processes, and decisions transparent. When utilizing a single platform for organizational development initiatives, all discussions, ideas, and solutions can all be gathered in a single place. This makes analysis, follow-up, and insight creation so much easier, agile, and transparent.

Each organization’s process is different, which is why it’s important to stay open to feedback and iterate as you go along. The key is to stay agile. Highly collaborative organizations recognize that change is a perpetual state in their organizations and adapt and evolve as needed.

7. Leverage the right digital tools

The most successful organizations formulate a strategy (the “why” and “how” of change for their organization) before rushing to buy the latest digital platform. The technology should support the strategy. As you stabilize your OD and technical tools, incorporate organizational change into the planning, always from the perspective of the employee experience. When you’re ready to decide, find the right tools that are simple to use and provide a noiseless space to focus on the program at hand. 

Wrapping up

Before setting out to test out these strategies, I’d like to leave you with a couple of questions to ask yourself. After all, I did suggest to start with the why.

1. Are you leading by example? 

When you think about the outcome you are looking for, the way you lead and the way you get there should be applied to the process of change. For example, if you’d like to be a more collaborative organization, then you can’t expect transformation ideas to only come from a subset of people.

2. Do the digital tools you are using support your change strategy?

Oftentimes, companies are using a multitude of tools, which creates silos among teams and individuals. If you’d like to provide more transparency, opportunities for co-creation, and facilitate dialogue among employees, then it’s critical to have a single digital platform that supports this.

If you’d like to learn more about how to implement these strategies digitally, download our free eBook below “How to effectively implement organizational change in a digital environment”. In this eBook, we’ll share trends, step-by-step instructions, and real-life case studies on how to digitally engage participants in organizational development, change, and transformation programs.

Get your free copy of the Organizational Development e-book