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Stakeholder Support Improves Change Efforts

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neal huffman
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neal huffman

The first place to start is with external stakeholders. Change must be supported by a visible need of clients and customers. Visit customer sites to listen and take notes about what is important to them. Explain how the business could save money and take feedback from shareholders. Tell customers that a change is being discussed that will save money for the company which can be dedicated to resources that improve customer relationships. Stakeholders are at least as important in approval as is senior management, maybe even more so.

In the February, 1999 issue of Management Review, Oren Harari describes eleven rules for leading change at the mid management level. The first principle Harari describes is “Let the customer drive your change process” (p. 29). By visiting customers and listening, a company gains valuable insight and strategic information. The economy and customers are always changing and successful businesses cannot ignore change and the customer’s needs.

Ensure Open Communication

After gathering critical stakeholder data and gaining their support for change, use the stakeholders as part of the change initiative. Since there is no immediate crisis, create visible and critical analogies linked to the enterprise in relation to its customers. For example, show the coalition and the workers how important it is to save money for the whole company in order to apply resources to solving customer needs. Can your business unit succeed if it is not directly addressing customer needs of which this change is an important part?

Show figures of the amount of money to be saved by implementing the change effort. Then show how the savings can be directly applied to resources that serve customers and improve relations. Show everyone that market share or margin improves by shifting resources to value chains ending at the customer.

Engage the CEO and the executive committee to state the vision of the change and ask for direct feedback. Open the communication to honest and clear factors of the change effort. After showing the critical needs of the stakeholders and how the money will be used to serve customers and keep competitors at bay, ask if anyone sees any negatives. If customers are not served by our company, then competitors will surely take them away.

Only after the channels of open and honest communication are open can the implementation really take place. Do not proceed from management approval to implementation. Involve the power coalition into every stage of implementation. Reinforce constant communication and feedback. (Kotter, 1996) Always stress the crisis that failure to take the leap will surely open the door to competitor insurgency.

Get the support of one customer and bring the customer together with one or two line managers from the coalition. Seek a small win with agreement on the change effort from this subgroup. Use the subgroup to gain greater scope of acceptance and build momentum to the entire coalition, and then finally the entire organization through empowerment.