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May 18, 2020


What is change management and how does it work?

Leaves changing from green to red - change management

“In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” -Eric Hoffer

Change is an inevitable part of life. But it’s also an inevitable and often crucial part of business. Current and aspiring business professionals understand that change is key to any organization. If you’re studying business, it’s important to know that change is something you are subtly learning about all the time, whether you work in business, health, or education. Organizational changes help propel a business forward as they work to expand and move with the times. Companies may be making small changes to policies and systems, or they may be making large changes moving teams around or adding a new product. Whatever the situation, businesses are constantly having to make decisions about how to change and adapt their organization. 

While change is a normal part of business, unfortunately more than 70% of change initiatives will fail. This is usually because the managers on the front-lines aren’t the focus, or those managers don’t know exactly which actions they need to take to be successful. Businesses that want to effectively implement change can benefit from change management.

Change management is a structured and careful approach to making sure that changes are smoothly implemented and that there are lasting benefits to those changes. Change management focuses on the wider impacts of change as well, focusing on how individuals and teams transition to the new situation. Change management can tackle a simple process change, or major changes in policy or strategy. The overall goal is to have a specific plan that everyone can understand, helping changes go more smoothly. It involves checking in with employees to make sure they are on the same page and that the changes are helpful and positive. Better outcomes are likely to come when an organization practices change management.

The change management process.

Change management often involves a specific process to help organizations succeed. The ultimate goal of change management is to help changes stick in your organization and create effective strategies for the ever-present need to adapt and adjust in business. Change management will help the business as a whole, and each individual on a team, see the success and progress that change can bring. Individuals will be excited about implementing and progressing with changes when effective change management happens. 

To implement change management involves getting the right people involved and presenting the plans in the best possible way. 

  • Define the end goal. The first key to impactful change management is to understand what the end goal is. When all is said and done, what is the actual change that needs to be made? The end goal may be splitting a team into two. It may be implementing a new software system. It may be the successful unveiling of a new website or product. Whatever it is, it’s key to define the end result so you can easily share it and get everyone on the same page about the change. 

  • Understand the impact of your changes. When you are preparing for a change, it’s important to understand exactly who this will impact, and how it will impact them. For some people, it may mean promotions or new hires. For others, it may mean a drastic change in their workflow or process. Some people may see small shifts, while others may see their entire work system change. It’s important to understand how this will impact everyone so you can know the best way to prepare and train them. Even small changes are important to understand and be prepared for. 

  • Identify key change leaders. In every successful change management process, there are champions or key change leaders that help drive success. Getting different team members to buy off and understand the changes will help impact the team in a positive way. Certain managers or employees who are directly impacted will appreciate being involved early-on in making decisions and have insight as to how this change will impact their team. They can be extremely helpful in creating a plan that will be a positive experience for others. 

  • Get your team excited about the change. In order to have a successful change, you’ll need to get the people impacted all on board. Start with a great kickoff meeting that can get everyone excited about the potential the change has. If you are able to point out great pros and rewards that come from the change, more of your team will be able to get on board quickly.

  • Plan for open communication. Make a plan from the beginning to communicate to your team how the change is going. Weekly email updates or meetings can be a great way to make sure your team is all on the same page. Transparency is crucial to team members feeling invested and a part of the change, and if you can help employees feel confident in what they are learning about the change, they will likely have better outcomes.  

  • Look for road blocks and ways around them. An important part of change management is looking out for road blocks. As every part of the change comes, it’s important to think about what barriers could be in the way of success. When you’re able to identify barriers, you can find a way around them before they become huge problems. If you’re able to tell teams that you understand that this could be a problem, but you already are working out a solution, they’ll feel more confident as well. 

  • Set specific goals and milestones. Change can feel ambiguous and frustrating to people, so specific goals and milestones can help take the ambiguity out of change. Team members will know what they are working toward and will feel confident that they can reach their goal and milestone. It will also set timelines which can help employees feel more secure in what is expected of them, and when it’s expected. Being as specific as you’re able is greatly beneficial for change management. 

  • Utilize effective training. Training will be crucial for a successful change in your organization. Teams may need training on new programs, software, or systems. New managers may need to be trained, employees may need to connect with their new managers, etc. Planning ahead for effective training will make sure that your changes are successful, that everyone understands how the new process works, and that everyone has the opportunity to ask questions if needed.

  • Find a big win quickly. When a change is happening in your organization, it’s important to get a big win quickly. Find a positive victory that you can share with your team to help them feel confident about the changes. It can be a positive upswing in website traffic, a change in performance due to new software, more sales, positive interactions between new teams, etc. Finding a big win will help your teams feel engaged and happy about the change.

  • Monitor your performance and adjust if needed. It’s important to know that if changes will be effective, you’ll need to regularly monitor and adjust. See how the changes are going and regularly ask your team how they are feeling. You may need to make adjustments in order for the changes to continue to be impactful over time. Utilize reports to understand how the changes are impacting people and the organization as a whole, and adjust as needed to ensure you continue to make the change impactful.

A group of IT professionals examine lines of code.

Best practices for managing change in the workplace.

Adopting change management practices can ensure that your change isn’t one of the 70% that fail. There are some practices you can institute to help ensure that changes your organization will face will be positive and impactful. Some of these best practices include:

  • Instilling a work culture that is receptive to change.

  • Be transparent about upcoming changes or shifts.

  • Have open communication where employees feel empowered to share how they are feeling.

  • Establish reporting cadences so stakeholders can see how changes are unfolding.

  • Recruit help implementing changes if necessary in the form of a new project manager or consultant.

  • Find the best way for your organization to monitor change by establishing good reporting software and systems now.

Change management models.

There are many different approaches when it comes to change management, and some may not be the best for certain organizations. There are key advantages and disadvantages to each, so it’s important to consider your organization and change before deciding the best change management model. Some of the top change management models include: 

  • ADKAR model. The ADKAR model is an acronym that stands for: Awareness of the need to change, Desire to implement that needed change, Knowledge of what must be done for an effective change, Ability to implement the change, and Reinforcement of new the methods. ADKAR helps employees understand the process that they are going through as change is implemented, and allows everyone to be on the same page. This model specifically helps individuals go through the change process. This model is ready-made, which can be good for some organizations, but a challenge for those who are wanting a deeper dive into the process. 

  • Kotter’s theory. The Kotter theory of change management involves following these eight steps: create a sense of urgency, build a guiding coalition, form a strategic vision and initiatives, enlist volunteers, enable action by removing barriers, generate short-term wins, sustain acceleration, and institute change. This theory is easy to understand and directly involves employees, helping them buy into the change. A disadvantage of this model is that because it is a step-by-step process, skipping a step can be a big issue. 

  • Kübler-Ross’ change curve. The Kubler-Ross Change Curve is also widely known as the “5 stages of grief.” This model outlines the various stages of emotions of a person going through a life-altering change, usually death. This model can be used to describe the emotions and feelings of an individual going through a major change at work as well. The 5 stages included in this model are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This model focuses specifically on the individual and how change is impacting them personally, which is great for managers. There is a disadvantage to this as well, as it can create situations where managers are too focused on people instead of the organizational needs.

  • Lewin’s model. The Lewin model of change comes down to just three steps, unfreezing, changing, and refreezing. Think about it in simple terms, if you have a block of ice and you need to cut it in half, you would follow this process. You first would make it able to change by unfreezing it, you would then change it into the shape you want, and then solidify the new shape by refreezing it. While the simplicity of this model is a pro, it can be difficult to work with if you have a large, complex change that is hard to boil down to three steps.

  • McKinsey 7-S model. The McKinsey 7s model is a tool that evaluates a company’s organizational design by looking at their 7 key internal elements: strategy, structure, systems, shared values, style, staff, and skills. These elements help to determine if the organization is ready to make change and achieve its goals. This helps ensure an organization doesn’t take on a change unless it is ready, but may include or overlook elements that an organization may not specifically need for their change.

Whatever industry you work in, change will be a big part of your life. As a business leader or manager in your organization, it’s important to be prepared for changes. Implementing a solid change management process can be key in helping your organization thrive with new policies, procedures, and more.  

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