What is change management?

You put new software in, spent ages working on guidance “for dummies”, sent an update about the project every month, and put the teams through the training yet…no one is using it, people went back to old habits. Does this sound familiar?

No, I’m not Karen from your organisation but I’ve seen it happening time and time again. Organisations don’t just change because of new systems or processes – they change because people change. And if you ever worked with people, you know already that people simply don’t like change. Yes, making change stick is tough. That’s why we need to talk about Change Management.

Change Management refers to the collection of processes, skills, tools, and techniques that enables organisations to drive the achievement of a desired new state. Because change is introduced by projects and programmes, you might have heard of the role of a Business Change Manager who often exists in such temporary structures, however, the change management capability can also be centralised in a Change Management department in the organisation.

Right, but what does this all mean in practice? Let’s find out.

Change management process

Effective change management starts even before a project is shaped and will include activities such as:

  • Building a compelling case for change
  • Assessing the readiness for change
  • Assessing the impact of the change
  • Preparing the Change Management Plan/Strategy
  • Preparing the Communications Plan
  • Assessing and addressing barriers to change
  • Preparing the Training Plan
  • Identifying Change Champions
  • Assessing the change effectiveness

These activities can be grouped in the following processes:

Change Management Process - Evaluation, Planning, Engagement, Implementation, Reinforcement

  1. Change Planning: as the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail thus this is a fundamental step in the change management process. As part of it, there should be a clear case for change, identification of the resources required, production of the change management plan and timescales, the definition of the change objectives and to-be state, and the assessment of the change impact, amongst others.
  2. Change Engagement: effective change management is about capturing minds and hearts, thus it is important to work on the engagement of the stakeholders towards change. This process details who is going to sponsor the change internally, which stakeholder groups are going to be impacted, how do they feel about the upcoming change, and what the communications and engagement plan looks like. As importantly, it should include the identification of mechanisms to address resistance to change.
  3. Change Implementation: this step refers to the actual delivery of change and therefore it contains aspects such as process updates, training of end-users, and the monitoring of the execution of the change and management plan.
  4. Change Reinforcement: embedding the change in the culture of the organisation doesn’t happen overnight, it requires reinforcement over time. This process is thus all about the plans and vehicles available for reinforcement, such as future training, coaching, or the existence of change champions to lead and sustain change.
  5. Change Evaluation: as with any project, it is recommended that a review and assessment of success is done This evaluation should be carried out at the process level as well as at the outcome level so that lessons can be learned and improvements applied.

The project/programme manager and the sponsor should work together with the Business Change Manager to ensure that no step is overlooked.

As organisations realised the importance of effective change management more models to structure that process became available. There are many out there but let’s focus on three of the most well-known ones.

Change management models

1) The Change Curve

One of the most popular and powerful models for change management is the Kubler-Ross’ change curve. It plots the motivation and performance of individuals over time and it helps build an understanding of where everyone is in their journey and why they might be responding to change the way they are. While the model has been initially conceived to deal with grief some argue that it offers useful guidance to change management too since the effectiveness of organismal change can be derived from the success of the individual change. This model contains 7 stages, as represented below:

Change Curve (Kubler-Ross, 1969)

Fig 1. Change Curve (Kubler-Ross, 1969)

2) ADKAR®

ADKAR is a results-oriented model developed by PROSCI® and is indented for individual and organisational change, that is, it can be used to assess individual competency as well as it provides a more holistic view of the change management capability in the organisation. ADKAR is an acronym for a structured number of steps to follow when handling change, namely (and in a simplistic way):

  • A – Awareness: are you aware of the upcoming change?
  • D – Desire: do you have the desire for change?
  • K – Knowledge: are you knowledgeable about the change?
  • A – Ability: are you able to operate the change?
  • R– Reinforcement: is the change being reinforced over time?

3) Kotter’s 8-Step

The world-renowned change expert, Kotter, developed a structured approach to “do” change well which encompasses 8 steps:

  • Step 1: Create a sense of urgency
  • Step 2: Form a powerful coalition
  • Step 3: Create a vision for change
  • Step 4: Communicate the vision
  • Step 5: Remove obstacles
  • Step 6: Create short-term wins
  • Step 7: Build on the change
  • Step 8: Make change stick

All three models can be combined for optimal effectiveness – why limit ourselves?

Change management tools

Following from the previous, the toolkit available for change management is vast. However, let’s not attempt an exhaustive list but focus on the basic artefacts to have to enable better change management. This includes:

  • Change Management Plan: it explains how change is going to be addressed in a certain project or programme and any tailoring involved if departing from organisational standards already in place.
  • Change Impact Assessment: builds an understanding of the change type, its reach and complexity, as well as the impact it will cause at the individual, departmental, and organisational level.
  • Change Management Process Checklist: offers a great prompt to ensure that none of the key steps in the models has been forgotten.
  • Change Curve: plots the journey of individual change to facilitate transition and adoption.
  • Change Readiness Assessment: determines how ready individuals and organisations are to absorb change.

How to deliver change effectively?

Make no mistake: change can be hard. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink, as the saying goes. However, this is also the reason why organisations need to invest in better change management capabilities.

To do so, I’ve presented you with a number of resources, from tools to models, that you can adopt. Yet, at the end of the day, I believe the effectiveness of change is a result of the preparation you have put into your change management effort. When onboarding in a new change adventure, take the time to reflect on three fundamental questions that should guide your next steps:

  1. Do we have the capacity for change?
  2. Do we have the capability required?
  3. Do we have a culture that enables change?

Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, said that “change is the only constant in life.”. If we and our organisations are constantly changing (Covid-19 and the “new normal”, anyone?), can we really afford not to be the best we can at it? It’s time to change how we deal with change.

APM Accredited Change Management Practitioner Training Course

This 2-day Change Management training course is for project, programme and PMO practitioners alike, those who have a keen interest in understanding change management in the delivery context, and those delivering initiatives that impact people. This is the only APM Accredited Change Management course worldwide and provides a comprehensive investigation of best practice change management.

Course Timings: This course is delivered in person over 2 x full days or remote live over 3 x extended half days (with homework).

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