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How to implement an effective change management process

Last updated

29 February 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

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Several factors may lead to changes in a business’s structural organization and operation—a merger or acquisition, expansion, diversification, new technology, new policies, benefit changes, or new regulatory requirements.

When implementing these changes, a well-planned change management process can help companies ensure that everyone in the organization adjusts effectively.

This article provides a detailed overview of change management. You’ll find out how to implement change management processes in your company and see examples of popular change management models. You will also learn why some companies fail to implement change initiatives effectively, equipping you with the knowledge you need to avoid common pitfalls.

What is change management?

What does change management mean in business or corporate terms?

Scholars at Michigan State University define change management as “the process of overseeing and facilitating change at any level where it occurs.”

It’s not a reaction to significant changes in an organization. Rather, it’s a well-structured and proactive process to guide how employees transition. It ensures they are able to achieve what the company expects from them when the changes are in place.

In simple terms, change management focuses on processes, tools, resources, and people to ensure there’s a seamless transition.

Why would a company need change management?

Change is inevitable, and the business world changes daily. Management and organizational goals constantly evolve, as do technological infrastructure and regulations.

Failure to properly incorporate and adapt to these changes can lead to many organizational problems. In the worst-case scenario, the business may collapse.

But change isn’t a one-day event where you know the exact date and time that it will take place. Change management is necessary to ensure organizations are prepared at all times.

The following are some of the key benefits of change management:

Smooth transition and reduced disruption

Change usually disrupts an organization’s normal operations. A well-designed and executed plan will outline goals, deadlines, responsibilities, communications, and available resources to ensure a smoother transition.

Increased employee engagement and commitment

Behind every successful company are committed employees who believe in the organization’s mission and goals.

Change management brings everyone into the fold through open communication, employee feedback sessions, and clear transition plans, clarifying employees’ roles and the company’s overall direction. This fosters a sense of ownership and prevents disengagement.

Involve employees in the development of the change management plan and listen to their concerns along the way. This will go a long way in ensuring employees embrace the new change and decreasing resistance.

Cost savings and efficiency

By planning ahead and estimating the financial aspects, resources, people, and time needed for a successful transition, companies can prevent unexpected costs, downtime, errors, and unavailable resources. This translates to cost savings and efficiencies.

Consistency and longevity

Change management ensures that changes align with your organization’s strategic goals in both the short and long term. Including strategies and actions to sustain long-term change in your action plan will prevent the organization from returning to old habits and methods.

Types of change management

Change impacts three things in an organization:

  1. People

  2. Processes

  3. Tools/resources

A change to one requires a change to the others. If a change initiative fails, you can look to one of these three areas as the source of failure, but bear in mind that all three will be impacted.

People

The human element of change management deals with the people in the organization whom the changes affect.

When changes occur, employees may resist them, fearing for their jobs and feeling concerned about their ability to adapt. Leaders must, therefore, address these concerns and involve everyone in the conversation. Clear communication can gain employee buy-in, mitigate resistance, and increase commitment to the new direction.

Additionally, new skill sets may be required to adapt to the change successfully. Staffing changes (either hiring new employees or letting go of current employees) may be necessary to provide these skills. Training and development programs can also equip employees with the skills they need for their new roles.

Processes

Processes refer to how work gets done within an organization.

During change management, you’ll need to identify existing processes that need revising and new ones required to sustain the change. This may involve assessing the efficiency of existing workflows and eliminating redundant steps.

You can introduce new and innovative methods to align with the change initiative. Most importantly, communicate the revised processes to employees to ensure they can understand and adapt.

Tools and resources

You’ll need the right tools and resources to facilitate the change and sustain it in the long run.

The other two elements of change management—people and processes—rely on the availability of resources to complete the change initiative. Provide access to relevant resources and put the necessary support systems in place to help employees leverage the tools effectively.

6 steps in the change management process

The six steps below outline what you’ll need to do during the change management process.

1. Identify goals, objectives, and results

When initiating a change management process, you should first understand why the change is necessary and what you aim to achieve by implementing it. Then, align these goals with the organization’s overall objectives.

For example, imagine your company is making adjustments to install a customer relationship management (CRM) system to enhance customer experience and increase sales. In this case, improving customer communication, streamlining sales processes, and gaining insights for better decision-making might be your top objectives. Your strategy would entail a well-laid-out plan to achieve these goals, and you would need to consider factors like budget, timeline, and resource allocation.

2. Determine how the change will impact the organization

Before switching to a new car, you’d consider how things like its fuel efficiency, size, and space would impact your life. The same applies when effecting a change management process.

First, you must assess how the proposed change will impact various aspects of the organization. The best way to go about this is by conducting a change impact assessment. This can help you understand the possible implications on the company’s normal operations, roles, systems, people, and culture.

Returning to the CRM system installation example above, the change may impact the sales team by requiring new workflows and training, the IT department for system integration, and customer service for improved interaction.

Considering these impacts in advance will help you prepare for and anticipate resistance, plan targeted training programs, and ensure new changes align with the existing organizational structure and culture.

3. Assemble your change management team

Once you have outlined the goals you hope to achieve with the change and determine how it’s likely to impact the organization, you need a dedicated change management team to realize the project.

This team should include people experienced in change management methodologies, communication, training, operations, and project management. They will guide your organization through the change process, address resistance, and ensure the transition is well-managed and aligned with the overall strategy.

A good change management team includes the following roles:

  • A change manager to lead the team, developing and executing the change management plan

  • A communication specialist to ensure effective messaging to relevant stakeholders

  • A training coordinator to organize sessions to equip employees with the skills needed to accommodate the change

  • A project manager to oversee the overall implementation timelines

  • An operations specialist to support process revisions and writing

4. Develop your strategy

The next step is to develop a strategy for how you’ll implement the change management process. This step requires you to create a detailed change management plan that states specific actions to perform, deadlines for achieving those actions, and the different responsibilities required from everyone during the process.

A good strategy should address the following:

  • Communication strategies

  • Training programs

  • Resistance management

  • Process development

  • Performance metrics for evaluating the success of the change management process

5. Implement your strategy

This last step is quite straightforward. It involves putting the change management plan into action and supervising the whole process. It also involves making adjustments along the way depending on the process’s response and effectiveness.

For example, if you experience more resistance from the team than you expected, you can adjust by offering additional support, perhaps in the way of extra hands-on workshops.

6. Implement sustainability steps

Sustainability steps are measures you take to ensure the changes last for a long time. They also prevent regression to old habits and practices.

Sustainability steps may include the following:

  • Continuous monitoring: regularly assess the effectiveness of your implemented changes and gather feedback from employees. This allows you to identify any issues early on and adjust as needed.

  • Reinforcement mechanisms: you can establish mechanisms to reinforce the desired behaviors and practices. For instance, you might recognize and reward teams that use new tools and methodologies effectively to encourage continued adherence.

  • Adapting to future needs: conduct periodic reviews and updates to the processes you have implemented to ensure they adapt to ever-changing business needs.

  • Cultural integration: ensure changes become part of the organizational culture. For instance, you can include elements of the change in the company’s values and mission.

Your organization can follow several popular change management models when initiating change. Here are two examples:

ADKAR’s change management model

This is a goal-oriented model developed by Jeff Hiatt. It’s aimed at helping managers gain a wider understanding of change management activities and is anchored on five building blocks:

  1. Awareness: before implementation, ensure that everyone affected by the change management process understands the need for change and is aware of the reasons behind it.

  2. Desire: it’s up to a leader to not only create awareness among individuals but also foster desire and motivation to support and participate in the change.

  3. Knowledge: provide the necessary information and knowledge about how to change, including training and resources.

  4. Ability: equip individuals with the skills and necessary competence to implement the change successfully. This may include plenty of training opportunities.

  5. Reinforcement: reinforcement involves establishing mechanisms to sustain the change. Examples are conducting ongoing performance discussions and providing rewards.

Kotter’s 8-step change model

This is an 8-step change management model developed by John Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School and a renowned leadership and change management expert. Here are the eight steps:

  1. Create urgency among stakeholders to motivate them to support the change.

  2. Form a powerful coalition with enough influence to drive the change process.

  3. Create a vision for change to guide decision-making.

  4. Communicate the vision throughout the organization to gain widespread support.

  5. Identify and remove obstacles that may derail the change process.

  6. Create short-term wins and visible changes to demonstrate progress and build momentum.

  7. Build on the change, using the momentum from initial successes to tackle more significant changes.

  8. Anchor the changes in corporate culture to achieve long-term sustainability.

Reasons why change management can fail

Implementing change management isn’t an easy task. The following are some of the key reasons why change management fails and what you can do to avoid them:

Lack of planning

Attempting change management without a comprehensive change management plan is a recipe for disaster.

Change managers need to identify the goals and objectives to be achieved, the impact on people, and how processes, tools, and resources will be affected. All three areas must be identified and addressed to facilitate a successful change management effort.

Low level of internal buy-in

Change management plans often fail because of insufficient support from employees and stakeholders, perhaps because they don’t believe in the process.

As a leader, you should create a culture of involvement and collaboration by explaining the benefits of the change, addressing concerns, and involving employees in the decision-making process. A carefully crafted vision that explains what’s in it for the organization, stakeholders, and employees is essential.

Poor communication

Many change management processes fail due to poor communication. If stakeholders don’t understand the purpose and details of the changes, they are less likely to engage with them.

You can avoid this by facilitating open dialogue, addressing concerns, being clear on expectations and responsibilities, and providing regular updates throughout the change process.

Lack of measurement

Metrics and benchmarks enable you to analyze the impact of the change on the organization. Define key performance indicators (KPIs) and establish a monitoring system to measure the amount of change the organization can handle at a given time. Changing too much too fast can backfire.

Additionally, organizations need a means to measure success. How will you know if your change management efforts have been successful unless you can measure current and future states?

Not people-focused

Change management should be people-focused. Neglecting the human side of the process—emotions, attitudes, and individual needs—leads to resistance and disengagement.

You should understand the needs of employees and emphasize how the change personally benefits them. Be clear about expectations and the advantages that everyone stands to gain.

Inadequate training and onboarding

Failing to sufficiently prepare and provide support for employees to adapt to new processes or technologies can also spell trouble.

To avoid this, ensure employees have the skills and knowledge required for the changes by providing comprehensive training programs and resources.

How to lead change management successfully

Change management is crucial if a company is to survive and be successful when introducing significant changes that will affect operations or organizational structure.

As a leader, your change management plan should be strategic and people-focused. Have clear goals, assess corporate impacts, and assemble a dedicated team. The implementation process should involve effective communication, training, and continuous evaluation. You can take inspiration from the ADKAR and 8-step change models, which offer structured frameworks for guiding the process.

It’s also important to understand factors that make the change management process fail, such as a lack of planning, low internal buy-in, and poor communication. This knowledge will help you find custom solutions for your organization.

To achieve a successful change management process, you should be able to engage employees, address their concerns, and provide adequate training. An overall understanding of organizational dynamics is also key, as is being able to adapt where necessary.

FAQs

What is the KPI in change management?

In change management, KPIs are measurable metrics used to assess the success and effectiveness of the change initiative. They include things like , productivity levels, and cost savings.

What is the role of a leader in change management?

A leader is responsible for the following:

  • Providing communication during the change management process

  • Providing necessary support to employees in preparation for the change

  • Ensuring culture alignment

  • Monitoring and evaluating the change

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