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by Robert Izquierdo | Updated May 26, 2022 – First published on May 18, 2022
Image source: Getty Images
For a company to grow, it must embrace change. Yet change management is one of the most challenging business concepts to grasp.
Organizations underestimate its importance; transforming staff attitudes and behaviors takes time. Others don’t know how to implement a change management plan.
Still other companies have difficulty fully understanding the business impact of changes; the organization is grappling with something new, and that’s difficult.
So let’s dissect this critical topic in detail. With some insights and handy tips, you’ll be armed with the knowledge to tackle change management in your organization.
Change management is the concept of helping members of an organization adapt to changes within that organization. A change management plan serves as the roadmap defining concrete steps an organization will take to execute the change management process.
Such a plan is typically part of a larger project management process to implement business transformation.
When a business change is small, like a new step in an existing workflow, the change management process may be as simple as training the applicable staff.
Larger or complex transitions require a more thoughtful, strategic approach because they can be disruptive and unsettling to the team. In these cases, implement a change management plan.
Deciding when to use a change management plan can be difficult. Some degree of change management is always required with every project, but small alterations can occur with little or no disruption to the team, in which case a full change management plan is unnecessary.
Here is a three-question test to determine when it’s time for a change management implementation plan.
Project management principles apply to an effective change management plan. Here’s how these principles pertain to managing change in your organization.
Just as a project has objectives to achieve, a change management plan has its own set of targets. Two key goals comprise every change management plan:
As part of these two objectives, identify a quantifiable set of key performance indicators (KPIs). During plan execution, achieving these KPIs indicates you’re on track toward your goals.
Once the changes are implemented, the KPIs allow you to assess if the plan was effective.
For example, in one of my projects, we used revenue numbers as a KPI to assess the impact of organizational changes with the goal being to avoid a revenue drop.
Communication is the core of the change management plan. Yet I’ve seen organizations fail at this. Many assume an email announcement accomplishes the communication objective.
In reality, change management communication must be carefully considered, and executed on an ongoing basis throughout the change process. It’s not enough to simply announce a change.
For staff to start embracing the impending transformation, messaging must outline the rationale and benefits of these changes.
The communication must also create channels for two-way discussion to take place. Employees will have questions or concerns. They may need help to implement the changes. Therefore, a forum or special process is necessary to allow this dialog to occur.
For instance, the raising awareness piece of change management can kick off with a general announcement at an all-hands meeting where the entire company gets together.
Accompany this with individual or team follow-up to begin chipping away at the goal of helping affected teams accept the transition.
Every project has some degree of risk. So, too, does a change management plan. In the context of change, the biggest risk is resistance from the team who must adapt.
When people have been performing the same work for a while, it’s hard to adjust to a new process. Naturally, people resist the changes. Therefore, prepare to meet this resistance and incorporate strategies to address it.
Helping the team adapt to business change usually involves some degree of training or other educational component. This can be accomplished through special sessions designed to introduce and educate staff on the changes.
Additional training pieces include the use of documentation and subject matter experts (SMEs), who are people deeply versed in the details of the changes and their implications to business processes.
Team members will require a reference source until they’ve fully adapted to the change. To make the transition go smoothly, provide documents that staff can examine to refresh their memory, or a SME who can answer more complex questions.
A change management plan resides within the overall framework of a larger project schedule.
As such, it falls within the project manager’s responsibilities to develop this change plan and apply project integration management to make the entire initiative a cohesive whole.
Although a sub-component of a bigger project, the change piece requires its own set of deliverables, and involves the use of project management techniques and planning in its own right.
So let’s walk through what it takes to create a change management plan.
When building a change management plan, start by establishing the plan goals.
Defining the goals can be challenging. Here are some tips to help you accomplish this initial step of the process.
Like any project, change management requires people and resources to execute the plan.
Here are suggestions to help you build a team and gain backing for the plan and the necessary resources.
In this step, project planning transforms into a documented roadmap that lies at the heart of the change management process. This document also helps you avoid scope creep.
This part of the process is akin to developing a general project plan. Let’s review some nuances that apply to change management.
The interface in monday.com presents key project information in an easily digestible format. Image source: Author
Creating the plan is just the beginning. The rubber hits the road when you are actually executing the change process.
Because pitfalls can crop up during the execution of a change management plan, here are some suggestions to help.
The final phase of change management occurs after the changes are implemented. It’s not enough to assume the team is good to go after being trained.
To encourage employees to continue transitioning their behaviors, attitudes, and workflows to the new paradigms, implement a process of reinforcement.
Let’s cover some tips to help you develop a reinforcement model that strengthens employee adoption of change.
Keep in mind that change management is primarily about people, not process. It’s tempting to focus on the process piece because it’s more straightforward and tangible than the messiness of people’s behaviors and emotions.
But that approach creates blind spots that lead to failure in implementing change.
For example, if you’re spearheading the switch to a new software system, it’s natural to concentrate on the technical aspects of the new platform. But if the system automates work that was being done by team members, it can make them feel like their jobs are not valued.
Therefore, it’s equally important to communicate how these people can now shift their attention to higher value work, like spending more time with customers, rather than repetitive tasks that are easily automated.
Managing business transformation is not easy, but with a thoughtful change management plan in place, you’ll be well-positioned to successfully champion change in your organization.
Robert Izquierdo is a software expert writing for The Ascent and The Motley Fool.
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