Organizational change helps companies grow and thrive, but it doesn’t always go smoothly. Even though change may be necessary, it’s often hard and people may resist it. Change management can help businesses successfully implement new systems and procedures, introduce new technologies and rebrand products and services, without unnecessary growing pains. Adopting an effective change management process helps ensure stakeholders accept the change and adhere to new systems and processes.
What is Change Management?
The Association of Change Management Professionals defines change management as “the practice of applying a structured approach to transition an organization from a current state to a future state to achieve expected benefits.” Change management uses tools and techniques, like strategic planning, project management and organizational development, to help people within the organization adopt the change and function in the desired state. Why is this necessary? Because employees and those outside the organization, at every level, may resist change, making the process less effective.
Resistance to change is not unusual. A Harvard Business Review article listed 10 of the most common reasons for resistance.
- A loss of control
- Feelings of uncertainty
- Decision imposed suddenly
- Comfort in the routine and familiar
- Worried that what they were doing in the past was wrong
- Concerns they won’t be able to use a new system
- Afraid changes will result in more work
- Fear change in one area will lead to change is other areas
- Bad past experiences when it came to change
- Painful consequence of change such as layoffs
When you leverage a change management process, you reduce the risk that internal and external stakeholders—including employees and customers–will reject the change.
Change management occurs at three main levels, according to change management company Prosci – individual, organizational and enterprise.
- Individual change management requires understanding how people experience change and what they need to change successfully. Some people need to hear certain messages from specific staff members, others need time to learn a required new skill while others may need coaching.
- Organizational change management includes the actions needed at the project level to support all the individuals impacted by the change. This level of change management uses a customized plan to make sure all affected employees receive the awareness, leadership, coaching and training they need to change successfully. Prosci notes organizational change management should complement your project management.
- Enterprise change management makes sure the change management is embedded into your organization’s roles, structures, processes, projects and leadership competencies. That means these changes are consistently applied to initiatives and leaders can guide their teams through the change.
Terminology Surrounding Change Management
Adopting a change management strategy can be challenging, partly because there are many different methodologies, processes and plans attached to the term.
The Prosci ADKAR model is one of two foundational models of the Prosci methodology. ADKAR is an acronym for the five outcomes an individual needs to achieve for change to be successful:
- Awareness – Of the need for change
- Desire – To participate and support the change
- Knowledge – On how to change
- Ability – To implement desired skills and behaviors
- Reinforcement – To sustain the change
The model was designed to help employees understand the importance of getting on board with the change. It equips leaders with the right strategies and tools and individuals with the motivation to successfully move through the changes.
Other Models and Processes to Plan Change
There are several other models and processes that you can use to plan and implement change.
Burke-Litwin Change Model says there are 12 factors that organizations need to consider when assessing change. The factors are grouped under four broad categories that include external, strategic, operating, individual and micro.
Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model works by creating urgency, building a guiding coalition, forming a strategic vision, enlisting volunteers, enabling action by removing barriers, generating short-term wins, sustaining acceleration and instituting change.
Lewin’s Change Model includes three stages – unfreeze (prepare a group to change), change (transition) and freeze (embed the new ways of working).
Leavitt’s Diamond analyzes the organization-wide effects a change strategy will have by outlining the four independent components of every organization – tasks, people, structure, and technology.
Bridges’ Transition Model focuses on transition, not change. It highlights the three stages of transition that people go through when they experience change – ending, the neutral zone and the new beginning.
Principles of Change Management
No matter which process, model or plan is used for change management, the core of the idea comes down to four main principles, according to Mind Tools.
- Understand Change. Break down the reasons why your company needs to change, including key objectives, and the benefits achieved when you do. Include how employees will be positively impacted by the change, how it will affect their work and what everyone needs to do to successfully change. Also outline the negative outcomes if you don’t implement the change.
- Plan Change. The nuts and bolts of a change management process varies by organization, but all need to have high-level support and sponsorship. When planning the change, consider what internal and external support will be required. Also, when deciding on a plan, get buy-in from throughout the company and think about the impact of the change.
- Implement Change. Once you decide on the plan, the next principle is implementing the change. Set criteria that will help define the success of the change and make sure it can be measured. Identify any training needs required and who your “change agents” will be, those people primarily responsible for putting the new practices into place.
- Communicate Change. Finally, communicate to your employees why and how change needs to happen. Be clear and relevant about the change and what people need to do to make it. Mind Tools suggests linking the changes to your organization’s mission or vision statements.
Translating each of these principles into the project plan will help ensure your organizational change is efficient and successful.
Important Steps for Successful Change Management Process
Change management takes a lot of work and yet 50% of organizational change management initiatives fail. Of the other half that succeed, 16% still experience mixed results, according to Gartner. Ensuring your organizational change is part of the 34% that see clear results, Harvard Business School (HBS) suggests following some important steps.
- Prepare your company for change. Change occurs logistically but also culturally. Without explaining to employees the why, you won’t get initial buy-in, which can cause friction later on. Managers must help employees recognize and understand the need for change, including the challenges or problems that are the catalyst for change in the first place. For example, a company that’s losing market share decides to restructure departments.
- Craft a vision and plan for change. Answering some questions about strategic goals and KPIs can help your company decide how your plan will complement your company’s overall vision. For example, what goals will this change help the organization work toward? How will its success be measured? What’s the baseline for how things currently stand? HBS also suggests defining the project’s scope, including discrete steps and actions and what falls outside of the scope.
- Empower employees during implementation. Changes to the company’s structure, strategies, processes, behaviors and other aspects have a better chance of being successful when employees are on board. Continue to remind employees why changes need to be made and how the changes are critical to the company’s vision and success.
- Embed changes into your company culture. Change managers can prevent a reversion to past practices by embedding organizational change into the company culture, particularly for changes to processes, workflows and strategies. New organizational structures, controls and reward systems can all help changes stick.
- Review your progress and analyze the results. Conducting an analysis and review can help you determine if the change management was successful, a failure or had mixed results. But maybe more importantly, a postmortem can offer insights and lessons for future change management initiatives.
Barriers and Roadblocks to Avoid
As previously noted, change management will be more successful when attitudes and behaviors shift first. People are unpredictable. Upper management may understand why the change needs to be supported, but that doesn’t mean employees will follow suit. According to SHRM, employee resistance and communication breakdown are two of the most common obstacles during organizational change.
Even though humans are resilient, they still may be reluctant to change, especially if they lack specific behavioral traits that help them adapt to evolving circumstances. How you treat your employees during a change initiative can help determine how successful it will be. According to SHRM, there are six states of change readiness: indifference, rejection, doubt, neutrality, experimentation and commitment.
Developing a solid plan, using the four principles of change and a proven change management model helps build employee readiness. So can having leaders sponsor the change and supervisors and managers train and coach employees through the transition. Lastly, reward those employees who accept the change with both tangible and intangible rewards.
Decisions about organizational change might be crystal clear at the top but can lose effectiveness as messaging trickles down. HR can help keep the channels of communication clear and open. SHRM suggests employers communicate change-related information to employees in multiple forms like emails, meetings, training sessions and press releases AND from multiple sources, for example, through executive management, HR and other departments.
The message given to employees needs to be clear, consistent and universal. If the wrong messages are used, the change is too sudden or it’s not aligned with business strategies, employees will be less likely to understand and accept it.
Aside from employee resistance and a breakdown in communication, SHRM notes other obstacles to change.
- Insufficient time devoted to training about the change
- Staff turnover during the transition
- Excessive change costs
- An unrealistic change implementation timeline
- Insufficient employee participation in voluntary training
- Software/hardware malfunctions
- Downturn in the market or the economy
How Leadership Styles Play a Role
Effective leadership can make all the difference between a successful change management process and one that falls flat. According to Mind Tools, successful change leaders have the ability to build coalitions and inspire trust, have strong communication skills, enough emotional intelligence to pick up on resistance to change and can think strategically, linking to the bigger picture.
It makes sense then that the Center for Creative Leadership’s three main “C’s” of change leadership address all these characteristics.
- Communicate. Successful leaders focus on both the “why” and the “what.” They explain the purpose behind the change and connect it to the company’s values.
- Collaborate. Effective leaders bring people together and encourage employees to work together. These leaders also include employees in decision making early on, gaining buy-in before resistance can occur.
- Commit. Not only do successful leaders encourage their employees to change but they demonstrate support for the change as well. Willingness to step outside their comfort zone to negotiate change successfully shows leaders are focused on the big picture.
Tools to Support Change
Successfully navigating and implementing change requires the right tools. Understanding, planning, implementing and communicating organizational change is great in theory but the right tools turn intent and words into actions.
- Distribute a change readiness survey during the planning stage.
- Use metrics from performance evaluations to determine which employees are most willing to change, recruit these employees to be “change champions.”
- Prepare a description of the company’s current state versus where it will be post-implementation.
- Provide training tutorials via an LMS to employees on how to navigate and adapt to change.
- Gather employee feedback about how the change has impacted them.
- Use measurements and analytics to understand how successful the change has been.
Change isn’t always easy but without it a company cannot get to that next level. Using a change management process can help the transition period go smoothly for the organization, its employees and any external stakeholders. Developing a solid plan, one that’s tied to your organization’s vision, and communicating it thoroughly to employees will help ensure the process produces its intended outcome, without added resistance from employees.
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