Making Organizational Change Happen Effectively
Change management is a term that is bandied about freely. Sometimes it's a scapegoat for less than stellar results: "That initiative failed because we didn't focus enough on change management." And it's often used as a catch-all for project activities that might otherwise get overlooked: "When we implement that new process, let's not forget about the change management."
It's a noun: "Change management is key to the project."
It's a verb: "We really need to change manage that process."
It's an adjective: "My change management skills are improving."
It's an expletive: "Change management!"
But what exactly is it?
Change management is a structured approach for ensuring that changes are thoroughly and smoothly implemented, and that the lasting benefits of change are achieved.
The focus is on the wider impacts of change, particularly on people and how they, as individuals and teams, move from the current situation to the new one. The change in question could range from a simple process change, to major changes in policy or strategy needed if the organization is to achieve its potential.
Managing Change in Your Organization
Theories about how organizations change draw on many disciplines, from psychology and behavioral science, through to engineering and systems thinking. The underlying principle is that change does not happen in isolation – it impacts the whole organization (system) around it, and all the people touched by it.
In order to manage change successfully, it is, therefore, necessary to attend to the wider impacts of the changes. As well as considering the tangible impacts of change, it's important to consider the personal impact on those affected, and their journey towards working and behaving in new ways to support the change. The Change Curve is a useful model that describes the personal and organizational process of change in more detail.
Change management is, therefore, a very broad field, and approaches to managing change vary widely, from organization to organization and from project to project. Many organizations and consultants subscribe to formal change management methodologies. These provide toolkits, checklists and outline plans of what needs to be done to manage changes successfully.
When you are tasked with "managing change" (irrespective of whether or not you subscribe to a particular change management approach), the first question to consider is what change management actually means in your situation. Change management focuses on people, and is about ensuring change is thoroughly, smoothly and lastingly implemented. And to know what that means exactly in your situation, you must dig down further to define your specific change management objectives.
Typically, these will cover:
- Sponsorship: ensuring there is active sponsorship for the change at a senior executive level within the organization, and engaging this sponsorship to achieve the desired results.
- Buy-in: gaining buy-in for the changes from those involved and affected, directly or indirectly.
- Involvement: involving the right people in the design and implementation of changes, to make sure the right changes are made.
- Impact: assessing and addressing how the changes will affect people.
- Communication: telling everyone who's affected about the changes.
- Readiness: getting people ready to adapt to the changes, by ensuring they have the right information, training and help.
When you are defining your objectives and activities, it's very important to coordinate closely with others: project managers, managers in the business, and the HR department. Ask "who's responsible?" For example, who's responsible for identifying change agents? Defining the re-training plan? Changing job descriptions and employment contracts? And so on.
As every change is different, responsibilities will vary depending on how the change activities and project are organized. Only when you know who's responsible and how things are organized in your situation will you know what's within your scope, and how you'll be working with other people to bring about the change.
Change Management Activities
Once you have considered the change management objectives and scope, you'll also need to consider the specific tasks. Again, the range of possible activities is broad. It's a question of working out what will best help you meet the change challenge in hand, as you have defined it in your objectives and scope, and how to work alongside other people's and projects' activities and responsibilities.
The essence of this is to identify the tasks that are necessary if you're going to give change the greatest chance of success.
Coming from this, the activities involved in managing change can include:
- Ensuring that there is clear expression of the reasons for change, and helping the sponsor communicate this.
- Identifying "change agents" and other people who need to be involved in specific change activities, such as design, testing, and problem solving, and who can then act as ambassadors for change.
- Assessing all the stakeholders and defining the nature of sponsorship, involvement and communication that will be required.
- Planning the involvement and project activities of the change sponsor(s).
- Planning how and when the changes will be communicated, and organizing and/or delivering the communications messages.
- Assessing the impact of the changes on people and the organization's structure.
- Planning activities needed to address the impacts of the change.
- Ensuring that people involved and affected by the change understand the process change.
- Making sure those involved or affected have help and support during times of uncertainty and upheaval.
- Assessing training needs driven by the change, and planning when and how this will be implemented.
- Identifying and agreeing the success indicators for change, and ensure that they are regularly measured and reported on.
Remember, these are just some typical change management activities. Others may be required in your specific situation. Equally, some of the above may not be within your remit, so plan carefully, and coordinate with other people involved.
Your Change Management Toolkit
So where do you start?
Here are some tools and techniques from Mind Tools that can help:
The Change Curve – This powerful model describes the stages of personal transition involved in most organizational change. It will help you understand how people will react to the changes, so you can better plan how to support them through the process.
Lewin's Change Management Model – This describes how you generally have to "break up" the current state of things in order to make improvements, using the concept of "unfreeze – change – refreeze." Our article shows the different things you need to do at each stage to support those impacted.
Beckhard and Harris's Change Model – Giving another perspective on change, this describes how change initiatives require the pre-requisites of real dissatisfaction with the current state, a vision of why the new state will be better, and clear first steps towards getting there, to be successful.
Impact Analysis – This is a useful technique for uncovering the "unexpected" consequences of change.
Burke-Litwin Change Model – This complex model helps you to work through the effects of change between 12 elements of organizational design.
McKinsey 7S Framework – Somewhat similar to the Burke-Litwin Model, this well-known tool helps you to understand the relationship between seven "hard" and "soft" aspects of organizations.
Leavitt's Diamond – In the same vein as the McKinsey 7S and Burke-Litwin models, this tool allows you to work through the impacts of a proposed change on the interrelated elements of tasks, people, structure, and technology in any organization.
Organization Design – Although every organization is unique, there are several common structures. This article describes these, and discusses the things you need to consider when choosing the best design for your situation.
SIPOC Diagrams – A comprehensive tool for checking the impact of a proposed change on your suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs and customers.
Kotter's 8-Step Change Model – The core set of change management activities that need to be done to effect change, and make it stick in the long term.
Training Needs Assessment – Change projects almost always need people to learn new skills. A training needs assessment is a structured way of ensuring that the right people are given the right training at the right time.
Why Change Can Fail – Change is complex, and knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do!
Stakeholder Analysis – A formal method for identifying, prioritizing and understanding your project's stakeholders.
Stakeholder Management – A process for planning your stakeholder communications to ensure that you give the right people the right message, at the right time, to get the support you need for your project.
Mission Statements and Visions Statements – Mission and vision statements are a well-structured way of helping you to communicate what the change is intended to achieve, and to motivate your stakeholders with an inspiring, shared vision of the future.
And to explore various aspects of change management in more depth, take our Bite-Sized Training lesson on Managing Change.
Change management is a broad discipline that involves ensuring that change is implemented smoothly and with lasting benefits, by considering its wider impact on the organization and people within it. Each change initiative you manage or encounter will have its own unique set of objectives and activities, all of which must be coordinated.
As a change manager, your role is to ease the journey towards new ways of working, and you'll need a set of tools to help you along the way: there's a wide range of change management tools here at Mind Tools – this a great place to start!
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