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Why most change initiatives fail — and how to make sure yours don’t

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Organizational change can be a challenging proposition for any business and its employees, and credit unions are no exception. Whether your credit union desires to grow revenue, adjust staff levels or implement fresh policies, getting buy-in for new initiatives can be tough. The reality is that many employees — and people in general — dislike change because they fear the unknown. In fact, it is estimated that up to 70 percent of change initiatives fail.

A key driver of successful change is thoughtful planning. In order to ensure your credit union doesn’t become a “70-percenter,” here are a few best practices that will help ensure a smooth transition:

Develop a strategy. Change must start with a carefully crafted plan, which involves and is contributed to by people at all levels of your credit union. Any change initiative must also align with the company’s goals and mission – you need to be able to answer hard questions about why you are making the change and how it positively will impact long-term business objectives. Setting a realistic timeline, outlining desired outcomes and developing specific steps to achieve them will not only prepare you for implementation, but also increase ease of acceptance across the organization.

Enable senior management to lead the charge. Credit union executives and other leaders are the most powerful change agents, and should be responsible for expressing a strong belief in the change and inspiring others to do so as well. Leadership must also empower employees to take ownership of and responsibility for new initiatives. Without internal champions of change, the odds that significant change will not be accepted exponentially increase and, as a result, morale will decrease. It is vital to put the right team in place to show and encourage enthusiasm for new policies, programs and people.

Be transparent in communication with employees. The No. 1 concern that employees have when things change at work is how it will affect them. This area directly ties back to the importance of thoughtful and strategic planning from the onset, which allows leaders to proactively, transparently and efficiently communicate the reason(s), strategy and goal(s) behind change when employee inquiries inevitably arise. It is also critical that leaders respond sensitively to questions related to how new programs or policies affect employees’ jobs or their day-to-day responsibilities. Remember – the unknown is, to put is simply, scary.

Schedule training. In many cases, organizational change involves the implementation of new technologies, which may be more complex or just downright different from what employees currently utilize or feel capable of utilizing. When new core software or tools are adopted, it’s vital to schedule training sessions for employees — often multiple — to ensure buy-in, understanding and to instill confidence from those employees who are impacted. If you are instituting procedural changes, set an informational meeting to guide your team through the process. It’s crucial to address employee questions or concerns early on in the process, and remain responsive during the transition.

Make a plan to measure results. Change for change’s sake is usually not a good idea, so it’s important to demonstrate the positive impacts made once implementation is complete. Measuring and communicating results is necessary both from a business and internal optics standpoint, so develop a timeframe for measurement and formulate a list of post-change questions to ask employees in order to learn what is working well and what opportunities exist for further improvement. Encourage your employees to raise the red flag when they notice anything amiss, and keep the door open for ongoing and honest conversations. When a standard for success is set from the start, it’s much easier to identify when goals are achieved and also to discern when you’re missing the mark.

At the end of the day, successful change initiatives are built on a foundation of thoughtful and strategic planning. When leadership is transparent during the process and proactively communicates objectives, employees are much more likely to get on board Invest in resources that drive efficiency in a post-change era, such as ongoing training opportunities.

Change can be scary, but with proper planning and careful implementation, it doesn’t have to be.

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