The Backbone of Successful Business Transformation: Change Management

Change. Change is a word that strikes fear into the hearts of some people. Change can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Often times companies look at a process as a “one and done” for design and don’t re-evaluate their options unless there is no other option but to modify the existing process. Conversely, there are companies that have instituted continuous improvement and have built a culture around change. They look at change as a way to stay up to date and keep progressing in their industries. These companies stay at the forefront and often are looked at as early adopters positioned to the reap the benefits of cutting-edge technology and process improvements. Those two ends of the spectrum have one major difference, and it’s in how they approach change management.

Change management is the process of managing the people side of the change. The technical project, or what most consider the project, focuses on the technology or the framework of the system being able to work as designed and specified. The technical project does not include managing the people that are going to need to adapt to the new paradigm of business. For companies that invest in change management and build the culture around change resilience, they are able to flow seamlessly to new systems and realise ROI (return on investment) very quickly.

Earlier I mentioned that change strikes fear and can be hard. We must realise the change actually is painful for some. In a 2010 article by David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz (David Rock, 2010), the brain registers change in the same area of the brain as pain is registered. The brain compares what is known (current state) to what will be (future state) and creates perceptions based on previous knowledge. Meaning, if the past change was not a pleasant experience, this time it will not be pleasant either. For change to be effective and lasting, we need to manage this perception and create a path from current to future state that allows the change to be gradual enough to ease the pain and ensure that it is a pleasant process.

For change to be effective and lasting, we need to manage this perception and create a path from current to future state that allows the change to be gradual enough to ease the pain and ensure that it is a pleasant process.

The way that this is done is through effective change management. So, let’s take a high-level look at the process, steps and importance of this process to ensure that change is done easily at your organisation and provide some guidance on how to get started on fostering a change-resilient culture.

Change management is a process. Like every process, it has steps. The steps are:

  1. Initiate the change
  2. Plan the change
  3. Execute the change
  4. Make the change stick

It is worth pointing out that the steps for change management might look similar to those of project management. For effective change management, it starts before the technical projects and continues after the technical project is completed. Let’s dive into each step from a high level and explore the purpose of each piece.

When you are looking at initiating a change at your organisation, there’s usually a driving force behind it. Whether it is to stay competitive or due to growth, new technology emerging, pressure form inside the company or stakeholders, or even for compliance, it helps to name the reason for change. This will be critical as you communicate this out to the users as a reason for the change.

Remember that we are wanting to manage expectations through this process, so we need to start with assessing the change. The delta between expectations and reality, whether actual or perceived, is something to keep in the forefront of thought. Once we have assessed what exactly will be changing, we can circle back to the reason for change that we named earlier and create the case. This usually can be summed up in one sentence that is something akin to “we are changing our process because of …”. It goes without saying that at the end of that statement, you would add in the named reason from before and that users will be notified of impending change.

The last part of initiating the change is populating the change team. This is, the people that will be helping people change. In subsequent posts we will explore who should make up this team, and who needs to be involved, but for now just know it is more than just one person needed to have successful change at an organisation.

An old adage you’re likely familiar with is, “failure to plan is a plan for failure.” This is especially true with change management. When we are planning for change, we are setting the stage for the future state. We are working to create, or modify, the perception of the future state and set expectations accurately. During this phase, focus should be put on creating a vision for the change/future. This is where the team will create the need for change and propagate urgency around change. One positioning technique I use here is to create a sense or feeling of “how can we not change?”. This will guide the team to creating a strategy and an actual plan of how and when to rollout which pieces of change management. This step of change management is about setting a vision and creating the desire to change.

After the change is planned, now it’s time to execute. This is where the rubber meets the road — where the process of setting everything that has been planned in motion. At this time, the team will be communicating the timeline for the project out to the users affected by the change, producing some quick wins and getting the momentum rolling so that change is automatic. Another key point of this stage is managing change resistance. We will look at how to work with folks that are resistant and explore techniques on how to work through those hurdles to make sure that change happens. Quick wins will be one of the main deliverables from this stage as it will help build momentum and help manage resistance as it will showcase the process improvement and benefits that are being realised.

Most companies will end their change management once the technical project has been signed off. This is not conducive to effective and lasting change. The last part of the change process is making the change stick. This might be the longest stage of the process depending on the size of the project and how long the technical implementation takes. In this stage, we will be looking at delivering the lasting results of the change by comparing the old and the new. This step will also be the part that prevents backsliding into old ways and locks in the new process as the standard moving forward. Whether the process is updated infrequently or you’re looking at creating a change culture, the new process or culture is what gets to be the new normal or SOP (standard operating procedure) for the company.

In closing, change management is the often-overlooked backbone of meaningful, long-lasting business transformation. And when done correctly, it can make all the difference in your company’s culture, performance and future growth.

Stay tuned for future posts where we’ll delve into these steps in greater detail and look at specific tools and how to use them for each step.

-Written by, Frank Cook