Change Management

Intro to Change Management for Construction Leaders

In a world of increasing uncertainty and fast-moving technologies, construction firms would be wise to study the principles of change management
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Illustrated by Rae Scarfó

Think back to a recent time when your construction firm announced something new. 

How did you feel? Did you accept the change openly? If you’re being honest, there was probably at least a small part of you that was hesitant. This is a natural reaction for almost everyone when presented with something new, and it is why practicing the formal discipline of change management is critical in navigating today’s evolving business environment.

What is change management?

Change management likely brings up the image of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or an internal log of the ongoing scope changes your job has experienced. But there is another form of change management that is even more critical to manage.

These are the changes your employees experience. Construction is an industry that excels with process, but it is common for employees to be left in the dark when it comes to understanding your decisions as the firm’s leader and the changes those decisions may create. Change management is a structured process that helps you lead the people side of change to achieve your desired outcome.

Why does this matter?

Change is constant in today’s world. This is perhaps most clearly exemplified by the change brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced all facets of society, construction included, to quickly adapt to a new normal, in turn accelerating change at a pace never before experienced.

As a business owner, you can imagine how that would correlate to regularly being introduced to something new. Exposure to constant change is difficult, because each of us is only able to handle so much at any given time.

I like to think of each person having a change bucket. Every change they experience starts to fill the bucket. We each only get one bucket; we don’t get the luxury to compartmentalize change in our personal lives from change in our work life.

Every change we experience, large or small, starts to fill our bucket with one big or small drop at a time. Eventually, it can overflow, leading to what we call change saturation. At this point, a person cannot process new change effectively, and suddenly that new project has been lost on them.

What can you do?

Managing change requires business owners and leaders to be intentional. The important thing to remember is that change happens at the individual level.

When implementing something new, the ideal outcome is 100% adoption, but wouldn’t you like to achieve that outcome as quickly as possible? With effective change management leaders can, but it still requires each person to be able to successfully navigate and make the desired change.

Here are a few things to consider while preparing your company for the next big change:

Identify the scale of change: Is it large and disruptive or small and incremental?

If the change is large and disruptive, you will need to dedicate more time and resources to helping employees navigate whatever is new. If it’s smaller, you still need to follow basic principles, but less time and energy will be spent on change management.

Who is supporting the change?

Understand who will be supporting this change in your business. Every initiative needs an effective sponsor at the right level. Sponsors need to do more than just support the change through messaging; they need to be actively involved throughout the process.

Nail your messaging

Why the change? Why now? What happens if you don’t make this change? Why does it matter to the employee?

Depending on the size of the change, be prepared to have the messaging come from multiple senders. People want to find out either from the head of the company or their manager first—not in casual conversations with coworkers. A rumor can easily be the first time someone hears about a change; that information isn’t likely to be as accurate.

Managers need to know how to lead employees through change. This means they need to know what’s coming first.

Give your managers time to process the change first. They’re your front line for dealing with employees who have questions. If the manager isn’t knowledgeable of the upcoming change, you risk having the wrong message reach employees. This instills little confidence in the change and sets you up for more resistance.

People will change at their own pace

Each person needs to individually work through their acceptance of change. By understanding the person and meeting them where they are, you as a business owner or leader can help expedite this process. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.

These are some basic principles to think through to get started. Many of these things are easy to do in theory but rarely happen easily in practice. Still, with an intentional thought process that focuses on people first, you can help your company change faster, allowing your business to effectively adapt and thrive amid the changes happening throughout the industry.

Here’s the psychology behind managing change in construction.