Editor's note: "The First 90 Days" is a series about how to make 2016 a year of breakout growth for your business. Let us know how you're making the first 90 days count by joining the conversation on social media with the hashtag #Inc90Days.
No matter what you do or what industry you're in, chances are that your business is facing some form of change.
It may be due to growth, poor performance, a new CEO, an acquisition, or the need to respond to changing market forces. It may take different forms. But sooner or later, change will happen.
When it does, it falls to you as a leader to make it happen successfully.
This 12-step checklist can help you manage change to ensure a smooth transition and good outcomes:
1. Paint the picture. Identify change clearly by painting a vibrant, clear, and specific picture. People have a much easier time dealing with change when they know what is changing, what is staying the same, what they can expect during the process, and what things will look like afterward. Communicate a clear and consistent message from all members of your team so people know what to expect.
2. Know not just what but why and how. Build a business case to explain the need for the change. Describe the purpose of the change as well as the likely consequences. Stating both will help with the change initiative.
3. Keep people in mind. Without your people, change will not happen--or at least, it won't happen well. Use your business case to make sure everyone on your team understands the need for change. Seek buy-in from everyone involved in, or affected by, the change.
4. Communicate with transparency. It's important to keep people in the loop throughout the change process, not just at the beginning. Help them understand events and issues at every step. Change is never easy, but if you communicate with candor and transparency, you can minimize any disruption.
5. Emphasize the benefits. Don't be dishonest or one-sided in your communication, but make sure that any benefits of the change are front and center to keep the context positive for any later information.
6. Set outcomes and goals. A set of common outcomes and clear goals sets the sometimes-chaotic process of change within a coherent strategy. Even if people disagree on the priority of the forces driving change, establishing outcomes and goals sets out a coherent strategy where each person is aligned on where they need to be and what they need to be doing.
7. Groom change agents. You can lead people into change more effectively if you don't try to do it all yourself. Identify and work with a group of change agents to help develop the change program and ensure its success. This team should include a mix of people from across the business and does not need to be run by anyone in management. Change implemented from the top down is less successful than that developed from within a company.
8. Use training wheels. Provide additional personal and professional development opportunities for the people who are going through the process of change. Offer training to those who are being moved or assigned new responsibilities. Make sure the members of your team feel equipped to implement the change, either with in-house training or a trusted consultant.
9. Check in regularly. Especially when change is imminent, it is important to always know the pulse of what is happening throughout your team. It's also important to demonstrate you care and are listening, especially when you are asking people to perform outside their comfort zones. Checking in accomplishes both.
10. Make it happen. Make sure the change is implemented effectively and on schedule. Don't drop the ball. Many organizations spend a lot of time and energy planning change, then get distracted by other priorities and let it run off the rails. If this happens too often, people stop getting behind change because they think they will be wasting their effort.
11. Keep up the momentum. Remind people of how far you all have come and what has been accomplished. Keep the momentum going by celebrating wins and recognizing effort and milestones.
12. Lead by example. Be ready to take the lead--to act as an example, to stand beside your people and help them along the way.
The bottom line is that we can't expect quick hits or 100 percent buy-in, especially at the beginning of the process. To get people to embrace change, you need to be serious about how you make it happen. Let the things that come easily be the impetus for real change. Otherwise, it may be just as easy to revert to the same old ways--and that is the last thing you want to happen.