What is Change Management

Companies and organizations around the globe are experiencing an unprecedented rate of change in their businesses, the markets they serve and their internal operations. Enabling change to occur in a deliberate, safe and structured manner is essential to develop the organizational agility that companies need to succeed in the modern business environment. Change management is the discipline that guides how companies prepare, equip and support individuals to adopt change successfully and to drive organizational success and outcomes.
When your company begins projects or initiatives to improve performance, capture opportunities or respond to key issues, these projects often require some types of changes: changes to strategy, policies, processes, business relationships, job roles, organizational structures, and IT systems. Change management is a process to coordinate a structured transition from the current state to some desired, future state to achieve lasting change within an organization.

Organizations do not change, people do

Many people’s perspective on change management in business is that it refers to “big-picture” changes to business elements, such as culture and the structure of the company – viewing change as a top-down challenge. Change practitioners have learned from experience that it isn’t the case. Effective change initiatives may be coordinated top-down, but the lasting impacts don’t occur until individuals embrace change about how they do their jobs. Change management provides a structured approach to support the individuals in your organization to move from their own current states to their future states. If individuals are unsuccessful in their personal transitions, if they don’t embrace and learn a new way of working, then the change initiative will fail; and if employees embrace and adopt changes to support the initiative, then it will deliver the expected results.

What is organizational change management

While changes don’t have an actual impact until they are embraced at the individual level, it is often impossible for a company or project to influence change directly with all the individuals involved without a level of coordination, which is where organizational change management is applied. Organizational or initiative change management provides a set of steps and actions to take at the project level to support the hundreds (or even thousands) of individuals who must embrace change for a project to be successful.

Identifying changes

Every change initiative is unique, but organizational change management provides a common set of tools and processes to identify what changes must occur to achieve the desired outcomes. Organizational change management involves, first, identifying the groups and people who must change as the result of the initiative, and how they must change. Some individuals may see their entire job change while others may just need to adapt to a new process or IT system. Understanding the change requirements for each group helps ensure change occurs in a structured manner and no important stakeholders are overlooked.

Planning changes

Organizational change management then involves creating a customized plan for each impacted group of individuals. The goal is to ensure impacted employees receive the awareness, leadership, coaching, and training they need to understand and implement the change successfully. For individuals to make the changes your company desires, they first must understand the changes and why they are important. Without individual buy-in, your change initiative is likely to encounter resistance and potentially some individuals will try to undermine the effort and maintain the status-quo. The organization change-management plan for each group not only addresses individual changes but also changes about how groups of individuals must interact with each other.

Implementing changes

Once organizational change-management plans have been made, they can then be executed in a well-orchestrated manner, considering sequences and dependencies as well as the interactions between change initiatives and continuous operational activities. It isn’t uncommon for an organization to have many change initiatives occurring simultaneously, driven by different leaders or different functions within the organization. One of the biggest challenges of change execution is ensuring individual changes don’t conflict with each other, leading to confusion and frustration among employees.

Change management and project management

Organizational change management is complementary to your project management processes. The synergies between project management and change management are important to understand. Project management ensures your project’s solution is designed, developed and delivered, while change management ensures your project’s intended changes are embraced, adopted and used. Building a new business process or IT system is great, but the company doesn’t realize the actual value of the project until it results in a change to how the business and employees operate. The change in operations is where the value from initiatives is realized, through efficiency, scalability, productivity, and speed, for example. Organizational change management is important to ensure value is realized.

Best practices for organizational change management

There are many different approaches to organizational change management that have emerged through the experiences of different companies. Lessons-learned and best practices are openly shared online as well as through the bodies of knowledge professional organizations publish. Some of the most widely used frameworks and best practices can be found in the works from the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP), the Innovation and Organizational Change Management Institute (IOCMI) and PROSCI. While each of these groups has their own approaches, frameworks and languages, each of them view change management from an organizational perspective and address the human aspects of change in an organizational context.

In addition to the work of these professional organizations, many leading business publications regularly publish articles about organizational change management with tips from change-management professionals about how to implement changes effectively in a variety of situations. For example, CIO magazine published an article on 10 tips for Change Management success in digital transformation initiatives.

Change management communications

Most organizational change-management practitioners will tell you communications are essential to an effective change initiative. Organizational change-management communications can’t be done ad-hoc – they must be managed, and information must be given to the right people at the right time. Communicate incorrectly and the change initiative may be destined for failure. Change-management communications can’t just be one-way messaging from the organization’s leader or initiative sponsor and then broadcast throughout the organization. The organizational change-management plan will outline different groups of individuals and their communications needs. Often, how a change is communicated will have a greater impact on the success of the change than the design of the solution.

Change management tools

Like all other parts of modern businesses, change-management processes can be greatly enhanced for effectiveness using technology. Organizational change-management tools help change leaders plan, execute and monitor changes throughout broad organizations. Freshservice was recently ranked as one of the Top 5 Change Management Tools. Supported by a robust set of modern tools, change practitioners can implement change initiatives faster and safer and achieve greater results quicker. This is important for companies seeking greater agility when responding to business opportunities and threats.

Change management certifications

Change management (like most other professional disciplines) has many different certification opportunities to help practitioners demonstrate knowledge and competency in their field.

While possessing a change-management certification does not guarantee the practitioner has the necessary experience to lead your company’s change initiative (you still need to do your due-diligence during screening), certification is a good indicator the person understands the process of organizational change management and knows how to access the frameworks and best practices of their peers in the industry.  
 

When is organizational change management needed?

Organizational change management is needed whenever a company starts a project or initiative that interrupts or changes day-to-day operations. Change management reduces the risk that individuals will reject new systems, processes or other changes and helps ensure the desired outcomes of the change are fully realized. Organizational change management doesn’t reduce costs or increase revenue on its own, but rather helps create an environment where individuals throughout the organization can better understand what changes are needed to achieve the company’s goals and how to support them. There are three main scenarios where organizational change management is important:

Changes to the roles of individual employees

When the company changes job roles, it changes the nature of the employee-company relationship. This is often unsettling to employees who expect a certain level of stability during their daily activities and company leaders’ expectations of them. Organizational change management can help employees understand the need for change and facilitate smooth transitions that fulfill both the company’s needs and mitigate the impact of the change on the individuals involved.

Changes to how individuals and teams work together

Many change initiatives include implementing/modifying IT systems and business processes that provide the structure for how employees in your company interact with each other. When these changes are made it often requires changes in behaviors and activities of all individuals involved in the process or using the system. Organizational change management can help employees understand the changes expected of them, why the changes are being implemented and when they are expected to change their activities.

Changes to the company itself

Large-scale company changes, such as mergers, reorganizations, leadership changes and shifts in business strategy, typically require structured change-management plans to implement. Organizational change management provides the tools for analyzing, planning and executing company-wide changes and measuring the impact and effectiveness of change initiatives relative to company goals. Organizational change management is the set of capabilities that enable leaders to lead large organizations effectively.

What are the requirements for organizational change management success?

Each change initiative will have unique organizational change-management requirements. These are most easily identified when the company already has a core set of organizational change-management capabilities.  

Change sponsor

The right executive sponsor is critical for effective change management. Change sponsors are responsible for championing the change to employees, securing appropriate change-management resources and ensuring the complete support of company leadership for implementing the change. If resistance is encountered from individuals within the organization, then the authority, or direct involvement of a change sponsor, can help foster the needed support for the change.

Scope and charter for change initiatives

At the heart of any change-management capability is the company’s competency to identify when change is needed, who needs to implement the change and what desired outcomes the company wants to achieve. These are the steps needed to scope and charter change initiatives.

Change-management framework

Planning change initiatives effectively is best accomplished using a structured approach. Most successful organizational change-management programs are built upon a model or framework used to guide the planning and implementation process. Selecting a change framework can help ensure more consistent outcomes and accelerate the planning process. Many frameworks are available from industry organizations or through the guidance of consulting firms. Selecting the perfect framework is less important than receiving organizational buy-in to follow the chosen framework.

Cultural willingness to embrace change

Change is tough, and everyone resists change to some degree. Change professionals often hear a common statement, “If it isn’t broke don’t fix it.” This statement may indicate a resistance to change or it could just signal the organization doesn’t understand why change is necessary. Developing a company culture willing and eager to embrace change is difficult, but with the accelerating pace of change in the broader business and market environments, most companies are finding change-centric cultures a necessity. Individuals must be willing to examine new information and adopt new behaviors and approaches to help their companies survive and thrive. 

Why is change management difficult?

Change management is difficult because most people are happier with the status-quo than the uncertainty of changes, which are always new. Most people only accept changes that make sense and improve their work environment in some manner. Change-management professionals use a common tool to explain and manage resistance to change. It is the Kubler-Ross Five Stages Model,  which was originally developed to explain the stages of grief associated with death or loss, but has been effective in depicting the human response to other types of changes as well.  

When expectations change, people often feel uncomfortable. Even positive changes, such as a promotion or new opportunity, can cause discomfort. Some of the most common reasons people resist change are:

Resistance to change is not necessarily a sign of disloyalty or incompetence. Resistance is a natural part of the change process. It often indicates resisting individuals either don’t agree with the vision or lack the ability to implement the change.  

Tips for successful organizational change management

Here are 5 tips for overcoming change management difficulty and achieving better change outcomes:

Many companies today are focused on digital transformation — reinventing business models and processes using data and technology, such as cloud, mobile, IoT devices, machine learning and artificial intelligence. These digital-transformation initiatives change the company’s core and how it operates. 

Change management is a critical process to achieve the desired outcomes in digital-transformation initiatives. Some of the key changes include realignment of how employees see your business and their roles, how you go to market, how you engage customers and how you use technology. Employees often respond to large-scale shifts with fear and resistance. Organizational change management provides the tools to gain the support of individuals for your company goals and strategy, so they can embrace the changes needed to achieve the desired transformation.

Related Resources