2022 is already keeping its promise to be another year of high change. As businesses nationwide grapple with the fallout of The Great Resignation, new COVID variants, ever-changing technology and the growing expectations of the workforce, some will rise to the challenge and others won’t. 

We’ve likely all been on the receiving end of a change gone wrong at some point in our careers. Implementing a change across an entire organization is no easy task. It takes a lot of intentionality, planning and communication—not to mention purposeful engagement with those that will be impacted by the change. After all, change is a choice. People opting into the change is what will ultimately drive success and create return-on-investment for small- and large-scale initiatives alike

So before embarking on a change initiative, make sure you plan for the following to create as smooth of a transition as possible for your people—and get their buy-in from the start.

Enlist the right executive sponsor

Selecting the right executive sponsorship can make or break a change initiative. The best executive sponsor is someone who is already well-respected within the organization. They don’t have to be a member of the C-suite, but this person should be high enough within the organization to remove barriers and inform budgets and resources. It’s crucial that your executive sponsor is authentically supportive of the effort and—perhaps most importantly—can dedicate the time to championing it.

Successful change management doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes more than a well-written kickoff email. The best executive sponsor will have both the time and energy for ongoing evangelism as an engaged stakeholder in the process. That’s why interpersonal and communication skills are more important than title when choosing an executive sponsor. He or she must be able to clearly articulate the “big why” while bringing consistent enthusiasm to the project.

Communicate the big “why” for the change

Very few organizations would create change just for change’s sake, but without clearly communicating the “why,” that’s exactly how some employees will perceive it. With any kind of transformation or change, it’s crucial that leaders draw a very clear line to how the change will enable the business’s overall strategy. Regardless of whether the change will create more efficiencies, accelerate progress toward a goal, or assist in achieving a specific business outcome, the executive sponsor should step up to share what the business is trying to accomplish through implementing the change.

Another aspect of sharing the “why” is the “WIIFM,” or “what’s in it for me?” Employees will want to know the positive outcomes they can expect the change will bring to their role. Maybe it will eventually help people get more done by automating a manual process, or provide them more accurate data to do their jobs. Make sure to identify those benefits employees can expect down the road. But in some cases, there might not be tangible benefits to employees. In these instances, it’s crucial to empathetically and vulnerably ask employees to come along for the ride anyway, for the good and success of the company or another department. 

It will always take time for employees to learn new systems and approaches, but communicating and reminding people of the “why” will assist in getting people to the other side faster and with a positive attitude. 

Use employee resistance to your advantage

You’re never going to completely eliminate resistance to a change, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Employee resistance can be healthy to the process, as it holds leaders accountable to making good decisions. What’s more, there are plenty of instances where you can use resistance to your advantage. Often, resistance is bred from fear. People are afraid they won’t be successful if they have to learn how to work in a new way, or maybe even that they’ll lose their job as a result. But when you identify those pockets of resistance early and invite those people to the table, you are usually rewarded with knowledge.

Sometimes it’s those people that have built or maintain the system that you’re getting ready to replace, so when you invite those employees into the conversation and express authentic care and concern, they will provide you with opinions and perspectives that will ultimately be helpful to the change process. In engaging those individuals that may be more resistant or skeptical in initial design or requirement sessions, you may very well make them champions of the new system. And there’s nothing that creates credibility quite like turning a skeptic into an evangelist.

Change is always difficult, but with the right executive sponsor, a clear “why,” and dealing with resistance the right way, your business can succeed through change—and may ultimately succeed because of it.