Some of us remember the “good old days” when the goals of most organizations were stability, predictable earnings and costs, and modest annual changes to the strategic plan, but as the Gecko said in his classic New York accent, “For-ged-about-it.” Today’s market realities include global markets, labor mobility, market transparency, and ubiquitous social media, resulting in fierce competition and near continuous change.
Organizations are complex, interdependent systems. A change in one part of the system often affects other parts of said system. Examples of organizational change include:
- Business pivots into new products, services, or new markets
- Major initiatives or strategies (IT system changes, culture identification and changes, process improvements, cost reductions, quality improvements, etc.)
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Reorganizations (including structure changes and layoffs)
Project management focuses on the tasks and technical aspects of what needs to be done. Change management focuses on the people who are asked to do those tasks. Change management is the process that bridges the current situation of how an organization operates to the future, which requires different organizational attitudes, behaviors, knowledge, and skills.
Research over the last two decades confirm that nearly three-quarters of change initiatives fail. A study conducted by Booz & Company in 2013 reported a number of obstacles in change management including:
- 48% felt their companies did not have capabilities to ensure sustained change.
- 44% of respondents said they didn’t understand the change being requested.
- 38% said they didn’t agree with the change.
The following six crucial steps help ensure successful organizational change by anticipating resistance and other barriers. The material draws from Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change and Prosci’s ADKAR model (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement) for change management.
1. Assess Expertise to Lead Change
Just as research and evaluation benefit from objective “outsiders,” the change management process obtains advantage from an individual or firm with substantial experience, objectivity, and sharp focus on change efforts without burdens of “regular” work responsibilities. The cost to enlist outside help could generate considerable cost savings through improved productivity and focus. Expertise required to lead change includes quantitative and qualitative research; project and change management; training, coaching, mentoring, and comprehensive communications planning and execution.
2. Appoint a Change Manager
The change manager leads the organizational change management initiatives and works very closely with the project manager to integrate task and people issues. The change manager is a communicator, critical thinker, educator, facilitator, negotiator, planner, and researcher. They coordinate all change management plan activities including an analysis of the gap between where the organization is today and where it wants to be.
3. Gap Analysis
Before mapping a road to the future, leaders of the organization must understand their current situation and determine shortfalls in attitude, behavior, knowledge, and skills necessary to reach their desired future. How ready are employees to undertake change? What aspects of the organizational culture can be leveraged to bring about change? After speaking with a cross-section of employees and managers, reviewing key performance indicators, and analyzing all data, leaders will have clear answers to the following questions:
- Why is organizational change necessary?
- What are the measurable goals of the change?
- How will organizational change occur?
- When will change management efforts begin and end?
- Who will be involved in initiating and sustaining organizational change?
4. Build the Change Management Team
With answers to the questions above, leaders of the organization and the change manager develops the team to guide the change management process. In addition to those with the required expertise to plan and evaluate, communicate, and implement the change management plan, a change manager looks for champions of the change process—those who will train, coach, facilitate, and mentor critical stakeholder individuals and groups. Including representatives from key stakeholder groups provides additional “buy in” from those groups. Membership on the team is dynamic as new information appears and the change manager adjusts the team composition.
5. Develop the Change Management Plan
Working closely with the change management team, the change manager develops a detailed plan. Key stakeholders review and provide input to the plan prior to its finalization. Elements of the plan include:
Clear, consistent, and frequent communication reduces uncertainty and fear, and helps build trust. Therefore, communication is essential before, during, and after the change management process. The initial communication plan includes high-level answers to the why, what, how, when, and who questions listed above. The change management communication plan includes written communications such as change management bulletins, live presentations by executive management and other members of the change management team, webinar or video presentations, and guidelines for one-on-one conversations between managers and workers.
The communication plan seeks to keep all stakeholders informed of change management activities, and seeks to uncover and understand disagreements with aspects of the change management plans. Benefits of engaging with disagreements include finding resolutions to those disagreements and possibly uncovering new data to enhance and update the change management plan. Leaders continuously update the communication plan throughout the change management process and into the reinforcement phase.
Identify Stakeholder Needs
Stakeholders consist of everyone involved in and affected by the change management process. This includes the people who have something to lose or gain in the change process, as well as the internal and external personnel required to implement and support the change management plan. The change management plan identifies stakeholders and seeks to understand attitudes, behaviors, knowledge, and skills of each key group. It also seeks to identify how stakeholders are affected by the organizational change and anticipates resistance from stakeholders. The stakeholder analysis provides valuable input to building the training plan.
Create the Training Plan
The training plan outlines activities to bring about changes required to transition the organization to the desired future situation. Training activities may include formal and informal training, classroom and online learning sources, action learning, coaching, and mentoring. Training activities include reinforcement activities after the transition to the future situation is achieved in order to sustain the new attitudes, behaviors, knowledge, and skills.
6. Implement the Plan
The change manager and change management team carefully implement the plan. In a continuous learning and improvement process, the team takes action, evaluates results, and tweaks the plan as appropriate. Actions and decisions are documented and communicated as part of the communication plan. As new attitudes, behaviors, knowledge, and skills become a standard part of the organization, the change process will come to an end. Reinforcement activities help maintain sustainability. If necessary, the change management plan is reactivated in an iterative process.
In addition to improving the success rate of change initiatives, change management efforts may result in a better engaged workforce, leading to more effective and efficient operations, which can then bring about higher levels of profitability. Change can be a very good thing.
CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).