Teleworker Toolkit: The Basics of Change Management

changesHere’s a quote I have often heard: “Approximately 70% of change efforts fail or are derailed. Failure of an organizational change can lead to major issues that cause unmet expectations, wasted time and money.”

Although I can’t verify the source of the quote, experience tells me it is probably accurate.  Implementing telework is often hard for many large organizations.  Like any other large scale initiative, it requires changes in thinking and behavior.  To avoid becoming a prisoner to traditional practices, leaders must utilize basic change management.  Most current models of change management are based on the work of leadership guru and Harvard Business School professor, John Kotter.  I highly recommend Kotter’s  book, Leading Change.   The following eight steps are based on his book.


Step 1: Create a Sense of Urgency

The first 3 steps can help prepare leaders to initiate telework.  First, leaders have to begin to tackle organizational inertia (the way things have been done in the past) by creating the reasons why telework has to happen and why it has to happen now.

Things to think about:

  • Is the current economic situation forcing your organization to cut costs?
  • Are you endanger of losing top talent or having difficulty recruiting new talent?
  • How can telework or mobility tie into and enhance your organization’s strategy?
  • For federal government agencies, how are you complying with the Telework Enhancement Act?

Don’t be too quick to go through the first step before moving into the others.  Make sure you build the right business case.

Step 2: Form a Powerful Coalition

Kotter says that 75% of a company’s management needs to “buy into” the change for the change effort to be successful.  You will need key leaders to provide visible support.   Identify key stakeholders and bring them on early (see my September post on Stakeholder Analysis to help you).  Keep in mind that your coalition of influential people may not be just the heads of the hierarchy.  Influence comes from a number of sources based on status, tenure, or expertise.

Things to think about:

  • Who are the key stakeholders in your organization?
  • Do they currently support or resist telework?
  • What strategies can you employ to get emotional commitment from these stakeholders?

Step 3: Create a Vision for Change

Create a clear vision that can help everyone understand why the organization is implementing telework and what the end state should look like.  When people understand what the organization is trying to achieve, they are more likely to follow through with telework practices and policies.

Things to think about:

  • How do you expect people to behave differently once teleworking is adopted?  (Several US federal agencies have done a good job creating videos that show a “day in the life” of a teleworker, an example of their future state.  Check YouTube for more).
  • What’s the strategy to execute the vision?
  • Does your coalition (from Step 2 above) all agree on the vision?

Step 4: Communicate the Vision

The next 3 steps are for implementation.  Now that you’ve created the vision and have your stakeholders behind it, you need to communicate it to the organization.

Things to think about:

  • What different communication methods can you use? (i.e. email, intranet, blogs/wikis, video, road shows, in-person meetings, e-newsletters, online or live forums, etc.)
  • How can be sure you are creating 2-way communication?  How can people voice their concerns and questions?
  • Are leaders leading by example?  (This communicates a lot!)

Step 5: Remove Obstacles

As you begin to change the organization it is normal to face some level of resistance.  What are doing about it?  Continually look for barriers to change and remove any obstacles.

Things to think about:

  • Are you updating the stakeholder analysis and identifying individuals or groups resisting change?
  • Are recognizing and rewarding the right behaviors?
  • Are metrics in place to highlight or measure correct/incorrect behavior?

Step 6: Create Short-Term Wins

Momentum for telework builds when you can show some early success.   To make new behaviors stick, you want to show some tangible results as quickly as possible.  You want to show how the change is working, and why the old ways won’t work.

Things to think about:

  • What are your short-term targets?
  • Which parts of the organization are more receptive to telework and how are you targeting them early on?
  • What metrics will be used to measure success?

Step 7: Build on the Change

According to John Kotter, many change projects fail because victory is declared too early.   Don’t make this mistake.  Make it stick.

Things to think about:

  • What additional things can be done to make telework stick?
  • What evidence do you have that shows the organization truly supports telework?
  • What is your process for identifying opportunities for continuous improvement?

Step 8: Embed the Change in Culture

Always remember that leaps into the future can slide back into the past.  Organizational culture is a very powerful force and takes a long time to truly change.  Constant effort is needed to make telework part of the culture so that eventually it is accepted as how people do their job versus a new, distinct initiative.

Things to think about:

  • Are you communicating success stories?  (Storytelling is a powerful tool and can gain emotional commitment from employees).
  • Is telework embedded into the recruiting, hiring, and onboarding processes?
  • Do you have a plan to replace key stakeholders and get new ones on board?

Remember, change takes a lot of time, patience, and effort.

Good luck!


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