In this guide, Change Management 101, we’ll cover everything you need to know about change management, from top to bottom.
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- What change management is and why it matters
- How change management differs from other forms of change management
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about change management
- Best practices, as well as pitfalls to avoid
Among many other things.
Beginners and advanced practitioners alike should be able to glean some insights from this article.
To start off, let’s cover the basics – what change management is and how it benefit organizations.
Change Management 101: Definition and Benefits
Change management is the business discipline that manages, executes, and optimizes organizational change projects.
This discipline has several objectives, including:
- Managing organizational change projects and ensuring they meet their objectives
- Mitigating risk and minimizing the negative impacts of change on business processes
- Minimizing waste and maximizing productivity
- Streamlining project efficiency and getting the best results possible.
In short, whenever an organization undergoes change, organizational change management is tasked with ensuring that project run smoothly and profitably.
There are many reasons to manage organizational change, including:
- Improved employee motivation, support, and productivity.
- Projects are more likely to be successful and meet their outcomes.
- Minimization or avoidance of common obstacles to organizational change.
- Designing appropriate change solution, as well as strategies and plans to meet those goals.
To name just a few.
Change management, as we will see, is becoming more and more important in today’s world, which is driven by digital change and transformation
Change Management 101: Core Concepts and Approaches
In this section, we’ll cover an basic overview of how the discipline of change management approaches organizational change.
Among other things, change management:
- Focuses more on people than on processes, tools, or technology. The central focus of change management is on influencing, enabling, and driving change from the level of the individual employee. Unlike ITIL change management – which focuses on IT Services Management and IT service changes – the discipline of change management recognizes the central role of the individual in effecting organization-wide changes.
- Follows long-established frameworks, theories, and methods to effecting change. Change management has been well-established for decades. Below, we will explore some of the most important methods and frameworks used in change management today.
- Develops a systematic, methodical approach to achieving specific organizational objectives. Change management exists for a reason – it works. A systematic, methodical approach to change – one that is based in scientific research and data – produces more effective outcomes than change that is unmanaged or merely “mandated” by business leaders. See below for more details.
To summarize: change management is an organized approach to managing organizational change and fueling change by engaging employees and making them more productive.
However, these concepts just scratch the surface of change management.
Let’s look at some frequently asked questions about change management:
Change Management FAQ
These are some questions – and answers – that explain change management in more detail:
What is change management?
As mentioned, change management is the discipline devoted to managing and maximizing the returns on organizational change projects.
It is a business approach with a long history, established methodologies, and clear benefits.
The discipline itself is cross-disciplinary, requiring a mixture of people skills, as well as the ability to think strategically and logically.
Today, data and technology play an ever-larger role in change management.
Why change management? (What are the benefits of change mangement?)
Change management offers a number of benefits for organizations, not to mention employees.
Some of these include:
- Bettter project outcomes.
- Greater project efficiency.
- Risk mitigation.
- Improved stakeholder support.
- Reduced resistance and other obstacles.
To name a few.
In short, managed change projects produce better results than projects that are poorly managed … or not manage at all.
What are the pros and cons of change management?
Change management is like any other business process.
It is an investment with risks, rewards, and potential returns.
A careful, strategic approach to change management is required to reap the biggest benefits.
As mentioned, the benefits of change management include:
- Better project results and outcomes
- Increase project efficiency
- Greater support and lesser employee resistance
- Greater chances of successful change
On the other hand change management does come with its own drawbacks and considerations:
- The wrong approach to change management can produce poor results … or even failure
- Investing in the wrong change management solution, consultancy, or advisory can generate poor returns
- Change management itself is an investment that can pay for itself – but only if an organization has enough resources
In other words, it is important to invest carefully in the right consultants, change mangement approach, and so forth.
Change management vs. change leadership: is there a difference?
Yes, the two are distinct.
And both are necessary.
Here is the difference:
- Change management is tasked with organizing, executing, coordinating, and managing change projects. The goal is to minimize waste, maximize outcomes, and maximizes returns on investment.
- Change leadership develops the vision for change. The change leader or leaders develop the ultimate vision and strategic direction for change – which acts as a beacon throughout change projects. This “north star,” as Deloitte calls it, can keep organizations on track, even through long and often difficult transitions.
Leadership and management go hand-in-hand.
Both contribute greatly to change management, greatly impacting the results and outcomes of a change project.
Who manages organizational changes?
Change management projects can be managed by different parties, depending on the organization’s structure, its size, and its existing functions.
Prosci advises forming a set of separate groups, each with its own roles and responsibilities.
Prosci suggests separating change management roles into specific functions:
- Executives and senior management. Prosci says that executives and senior manager must be intimately involved in change projects. They must act as the “voice” as well as the “face” of change. This falls in line with other effective leadership practices – the best leaders lead by example, embody change, and are the first to adopt new initiatives.
- Middle management and supervisors. Middle managers and supervisors support change efforts by assisting with communication, resistance management, feedback collection, and acting as local change advocates.
- The change management team. Large enterprises often have a dedicated change management department or team. This team may also be composed of existing personnel from various departments. They help guide the change effort, coordinate communication among other teams, and ensure that the project is well-managed and stays on track.
- The project team and project support functions. Project teams work behind the scenes to enable and build the necessary systems, functions, and capabilities. They create the infrastructure and systems that other groups need to execute change effectively.
Though this is just one example of the roles involved in change management, if offer important insight.
To be effective, change management must be methodical and systematic.
This includes the assignment of roles, responsibilities, and duties.
Change Management Frameworks
Change management frameworks – or change management models – are another fundamental aspect of change management.
Frameworks, like the assignment of roles and responsibilities, provide order and organization to change management projects.
And, as a result, they ensure that change projects follow goal-oriented roadmaps, plans, and schedules.
Here are some fundamental attributes that define change management frameworks:
- They are practical
- They are focused on driving organizational change at the individual level
- They improve the results of organizational change projects
Let’s look at a few of the most common change models:
Kurt Lewin’s 3-Stage Change Model
Kurt Lewin is often considered the forefather of change management (as well as other disciplines, such as organization development).
His research into group dynamics, group psychology, action research, and change processes have formed the foundation of how many business professionals view and approach organizational change.
Covering his research is beyond the scope of this article.
However, his 3-step change framework is widely known and applied in the field of change management.
Its steps include:
- Unfreeze – Uprooting old processes, procedures, habits, workflows, beliefs, and so forth. In other words, unraveling the structures that need to be changed.
- Transition – Transition is the state between the previous state of affairs and the future status quo. For those involved, it can involve uncertainty, fear, chaos, and upheaval, depending on the nature of the changes.
- Freeze – Finally, new processes, procedures, and norms must be established. These must be reinforced and instituted in order to remain permanent.
This model’s simplicity, in part, contributes to its effectiveness and power.
Originally developed in the mid-1900s, it has gone on to inform many subsequent change management models and approaches.
Prosci’s ADKAR Model
Prosci and its founder, Jeff Hiatt, promote a change management framework known as ADKAR.
Based on Jeff Hiatt’s personal experience working with transforming organizations, he recognized crucial factors to enabling individual change. And, as a consequence, organizational change.
The ADKAR change framework consists of five practical stages:
- Awareness. Building awareness of the need for change.
- Desire. Generating desire for change.
- Knowledge. Offering employees the knowledge of how to change.
- Ability. Giving employees the opportunity to demonstrate skills and behavior.
- Reinforcement. Reinforcing a change so that it sticks and stays permanent.
According to Prosci, this model is a straightforward, practical framework that can help organizations effectively enact and effect organizational change.
And, like most change management methods, it emphasizes changing the individuals first.
Changing individuals, after all, is among the most difficult and important aspects of organizational change.
John Kotter’s 8-Step Model for Leading Change
John Kotter, a leader in the change management industry, developed an 8-step model for leading and managing change.
Like Prosci’s model, it is a practical framework designed to be applied in the real world and the real work place.
Its eight steps include:
- Creating a sense of urgency. Explaining why a change is needed and why change is so urgent.
- Building a guiding coalition. A guiding coalition is an army of volunteers who guide and coordinate the activities of a change effort.
- Building a strategic vision and initiatives. Explain how the past will connect to the future and make that future a reality.
- Enlist a volunteer army. A corps of volunteers will be the driving force that moves change forward.
- Enable action by removing barriers. Barriers, such as inefficient processes and hierarchies, should be eliminated if they stand in the way of progress.
- Generate short-term wins. Short-term wins accumulate and build momentum among employees. To help motivate employees, they should be communicated early and often.
- Sustain acceleration. The first success increases credibility – change leaders should relentlessly pursue change after change until the final vision becomes a reality.
- Institute change. Like Prosci, Kotter’s framework advises reinforcing change, by articulating the connections between new behaviors and success.
As with the ADKAR framework, Kotter’s model focuses on driving organizational change at the individual level.
By motivating, enabling, and leading employees, a workforce is much more likely to successfully enact change.
The change models covered so far are some of the most common – but there are certainly others.
Other Change Models and Frameworks
The change frameworks covered so far are a few of the most popular.
But they are by no means the only ones.
Other change frameworks include models from:
Not to mention a number of change approaches from other industry professionals and academics.
The History and Evolution of Change Management
Change management, organization development, and related disciplines began in the mid-1900s.
As mentioned, Kurt Lewin is perhaps the most influential figure in the field of change management.
His research focused on, among other things, areas such as:
- Group dynamics. Behaviors and psychological processes that occur within and between groups. A number of theorists contributed to this field, including but not limited to Kurt Lewin.
- Psychology. Lewin developed his own theory of how individuals behave and interact within groups. His psychological theories, such as force field analysis, provided a framework for viewing how individuals interacted with their environments, what aided, and what hindered their actions.
- Leadership climates. He also described various organizational climates in detail. Namely, he defined three types of climates: autocratic climates, democratic climates, and laizzes faire climates. Each has its own leadership style, culture, and operating procedure.
As mentioned, his research often formed the foundation of many subsequent change management theories and frameworks.
Even today these ideas still inform many change management practices and methods.
Best Practices and Recommendations
So far, we have seen a number of change management frameworks, ideas, and approaches.
But the frameworks mentioned above only cover part of what change managers do.
To maximize outcomes and the success of organizational changes (and transformations), change managers should follow a few best practices and principles of change management.
An organizational change or transformation usually stems from a self-evident problem.
Change managers and relevant personnel – such as business leaders, department heads, HR managers, and so forth – should perform detailed analyses.
They should assess areas such as change readiness, digital maturity, the workplace culture, the organizational climate, the problem, and potential solutions.
A strategy acts as a guiding light for organizational changes and transformations.
This long-term vision and strategy should be:
- Understandable to all stakeholders
- Clearly articulated
Defining a strategy will help organizations in a number of ways, including:
- Offering a solid path and clear direction for organizational changes
- Act as a baseline when developing goals, milestone, and metrics
- Provide a sense of purpose for organizational changes and transformations
In short, a clearly defined, achievable strategy is crucial for successful transformation.
Create a Roadmap
A roadmap for change is a stage-based schedule that defines a transformation’s journey.
The frameworks mentioned above can serve as excellent roadmaps, or at least good starting points.
Good roadmaps should:
- Break down the journey into stages. Altogether, these stages will form a complete journey. The first stage, for example, should introduce the concept of change, its necessity, its benefits, and what it entails. Each following stage will achieve a series of goals that result in the final transformation.
- Define each stage’s goals, expectations, roles, and responsibilities. Roadmap stages should clearly define the goals and expectations of everyone involved … before moving on to the next stage.
- Act as a schedule. Also, like any project management roadmap, each goal and milestone should have a deadline. Without deadlines, after all, it is all to easy to put tasks off until later.
- Describe other pertinent information. Different roadmaps include different information. To make roadmaps more useful and relevant to employees, for instance, many roadmaps include things such as psychological descriptions, needs, or obstacles. If it can help stakeholders meet objectives, consider including it.
Like any journey map, the roadmap helps clarify expectations, aims, and responsibilities.
It also serves as a communication tool, helping to maintain accountability and ensure all stakeholders stay in sync.
Communication is one of the most important soft skills.
In change management, communication is critical to successfully driving change.
However, it is important not to view communication just as a vague buzzword.
To be effective, communication must be strategic. And it must accomplish specific goals.
In change management, a systematic approach to communication performs a number of functions:
- Clarifying the purpose and aim of a change project. A documented strategy does no good if it isn’t communicated properly. Communication strategies explain the purpose of a change, the reasons for that change, the benefits of the change, and the consequences of not changing. Explaining the “why” of a change project improves employee sentiment and support.
- Transparency. Effective communication also increases transparency around a change project. Keeping stakeholders in the dark is a sure way to increase resistance and decrease support … not to mention the chances of success.
- Creating a dialogue between all involved parties. An open dialogue invites participation from everyone involved, from frontline employees to executives. Participation in such a dialogue helps employees feel included – as though they are participating in the change, instead of being forced into it.
- Explaining agendas, roadmaps, expectations, and so on. Communication also serves the basic purpose of explaining a change process – what will happen, expectations, roles, responsibilities, and so on.
- Earning employee trust and support. Finally, effective communication earns stakeholder trust. It can be used to earn the trust of employees, on the one hand. On the other, the right communication approach can help secure support from business leaders and executives.
At the same time, an effective communication strategy can minimize obstacles and mitigate risk.
For instance, effective communication helps employees understand the “why” of a change project – helping decrease resistance and friction.
Onboard and train effectively
Onboarding is a crucial phase of any organizational change project, especially major ones.
- Introducing users to new tools, workflows, and processes
- Acclimating them to these new circumstances as quickly as possible
- Minimizing churn and transitioning users to the next stage quickly and efficiently
For instance, when introducing users to a new, complex software platform, the onboarding experience can make a difference in user learning, frustration, and retention.
Following on the heels of onboarding is training.
Effective training approaches and techniques offer several advantages, including:
- Accelerated time-to-competency. Users who learn to use a software more quickly can begin generating results more quickly.
- Improved user proficiency and productivity. Good digital training solutions – such as Digital Adoption Platforms (DAPs) – can dramatically increase users’ productivity with a tool or set of tools.
- Better adaptability when it comes to change and innovation. Effective training also helps workers adapt and learn more quickly. This is critically important in today’s era, which is driven by change and digital transformation.
In today’s digital, fast-paced economy, the right training solutions can make a significant difference in terms of ROI and employee productivity … as we’ll see below.
First, though, it is important to recognize that every change project comes with its own set of barriers and challenges.
These should be carefully addressed and considered when designing any change management approach.
Barriers to Effective Change
Here are some of the most common barriers to change management:
- Employee resistance. Employee resistance is a common roadblock to organizational change. That resistance can stem from a variety of factors, such as: fear of change, fear of incompetency, lack of trust in leadership, lack of trust in the change, and so forth. Understanding and addressing these issues at the outset can prevent them from becoming serious obstacles.
- Lack of executive support. Executive sponsorship and buy-in is a major factor that contributes to the success of any change project. Change managers and sponsors should make a solid case for the business value of change, then present it to appropriate business leaders before the initiative even begins.
- Organizational culture. An organization’s culture plays a large role in how employees behave and respond to change. Employees who are open to change, learning, and digital technology, for instance, will be more likely support digital change projects. In some cases, changing an organization’s culture is necessary to drive successful change.
- Resources. Resource limitations are another common roadblock to effective change. Budgets may be tight. Employees may have too little time. Technology resources may be maxed out. In short, resource constraints are another common constraint to organizational change.
- Obsolete processes, models, or technology. Entrenched, pre-digital processes can act as barriers to innovative change. If a process, technology, or even a business model becomes too entrenched, then changing those processes can become difficult and taxing.
During the early stages of a project, such potential barriers should be evaluated and addressed head-on.
Dealing with them correctly can greatly reduce their negative impacts … or even prevent them entirely.
Change Management in the Digital Age
How is change management changing in the digital revolution?
Today, change management is evolving, along with every other industry.
Here are a few factors that are impacting change management in the modern business environment:
- Digital transformation. Digital disruption – caused by the innovative use of technology – is upending and transforming entire industries and marketplaces. Today, many organizational changes and transformations are centered around digital transformation efforts.
- Digital adoption. Digital adoption – the adoption and implementation of digital technology to its fullest extent – is a core piece of the digital transformation puzzle.
- Agile change management. Agile business processes are increasingly being applied to change management. This means an increased emphasis on collaboration, user feedback, responsiveness, and adaptability.
- Continual change. The digital revolution has just begun. Yet continuous change has already become the standard. In a future where continual change is the norm, businesses must build processes that are adaptable, agile, and able to continually change.
- Speed. Organizations that can deliver quality solutions more quickly will win. The faster and more efficiently that a company can prototype and release products into the marketplace, the better chances they will have when it comes to capturing customers and market share.
The fundamental principles of change management will likely never change.
Humans will always run organizations, meaning that their support is essential to succeed, regardless of how the digital future plays out.
The Future of Change Management
How will change management evolve in the coming years and decades?
It is likely that today’s emerging trends will continue to develop and become more standard:
- Perpetual change. As mentioned, continual change has become normal during the digital revolution. However, right now, there is no end in sight. New technologies will continue to emerge, grow, and change the way we do business. AI, AR, VR, IoT, among many others, will continue to reshape and change the entire global economy.
- Ongoing learning. Digital technologies are released constantly. This presents many opportunities for businesses and employees. But it also presents challenges – employees must continually learn to use those technologies productively. Lifelong learning will soon become normal.
- Digital-first, human-centric. Digital technology offers many competitive advantages, leading many organizations to adopt a digital-first business strategy. However, human-centered design will likely remain a main focus. Perhaps this is one reason why today’s businesses emphasize the user experience, the employee experience, and the customer experience.
- New technologies, new approaches. New technology will open many new frontiers in change management. The right combination of data, analytics, and change management methodology can create new approaches, innovative management methods, and competitive advantages.
These are just a few trends to expect as the digital economy continues to evolve.
However, given all of the information we have presented so far, where to go next?
Where to Go From Here – How to Be a Better Change Manager
For those looking to improve their skills as change managers, here are a few avenues worth considering:
- Change management certifications and training. Certifications in organizational development and change management abound. The right certification can help business professionals gain competency, lead effective change, and improve the results of their organizational change projects.
- Coaching. Coaching is another option. One-on-one feedback from experts can be targeted and specific for a given organization. It can also help professionals address their own personal needs and make improvements as necessary.
- Consulting. Change management consultancies offer advice, strategy, plans, and more. Hiring a consultancy is ideal for organizations with limited change management functions. However, note that this is best used as a short-term solution – organizations that plan to change continuously should consider developing in-house change functions.
- Workshops, seminars, and events. Events and conferences are another way to develop change management skills. These events often pack a lot of information into a short time period, making them ideal for the busy professional.
- Association memberships. Associations, such as the ACMP, offer a number of benefits. They can help members network with other change professionals around the world, for example. Also, they offer courses, certifications, workshops, meetings, online resources, and more.
- Continual research. Those truly committed to change management should never stop researching. There are countless change management resources online, from blogs to magazines to newsletters. A bit of research can help professionals stay up-to-date on the most relevant, current information.
Change management is always changing – and to stay skilled, change professionals should also continue to change.
Continuing education and development, after all, can only benefits one career … as well as change project results.