by Thor Olavsrud

10 tips for change management success

Sep 21, 20177 mins
Change ManagementIT Leadership

Change management is the discipline of leading individuals, teams and entire organizations through organizational change via a combination of behavioral and social sciences, information technology and business solutions. Here are 10 steps to success when transforming your company.

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Credit: Thinkstock

What is change management?

Change management is the discipline of leading individuals, teams and entire organizations through organizational change via a combination of behavioral and social sciences, information technology and business solutions.

Companies today are focused on digital transformation — reinventing business models and processes using data and technology (cloud, mobile, data analytics, machine learning, AI and more). Such digital transformations alter the very essence of a company. Consider Swedish company Aerocrine, which once defined itself as a maker of medical diagnostic equipment, but now focuses on selling diagnostic outcomes. Getting there requires a realignment of how employees see your business and their roles, how you go to market, how you engage customers, and how you use technology. That’s where change management comes in.

Change management strategy

“All companies deal with change somewhere or another,” says Frank Calderoni, CEO of business planning/forecasting platform provider, Anaplan. Calderoni is also the former CFO and executive vice president of operations at Red Hat, and has served in the CFO role at Cisco, QLogic and SanDisk.

“It’s a matter of what’s going on in the outside environment you’re dealing with. Change is really about competitiveness; it’s about speed and innovation,” Calderoni says. “You know you have to constantly keep changing. But the problem with change is that change sometimes is not necessarily easy for people to embrace and be successful at.”

Getting people on board requires strong leadership.

“Change fails when it starts low in an organization, even if it starts with a group of passionate enthusiasts,” Calderoni says. “They don’t have the sponsorship they need to effect that change across a larger organization or enterprise.”

That’s an opportunity for forward-thinking CIOs. While change is often driven from higher in the C-suite, CIOs are well-positioned to champion change, or stymie it.

“This is a great opportunity for CIOs or their lieutenants to really step up, lean in, and embrace change,” Calderoni says. “You can still hug those spreadsheets or legacy tools, and you’re going to become antiquated at some point. Or you can stay relevant with what’s going on around you. Part of that is changing the way you do things and the tools you work with.”

Over the years, Calderoni has developed 10 truths that he says change leaders must embrace to be successful.

1. It’s all about the people

Technology may enable change, but the success of change ultimately depends upon whether employees embrace it or resist it.

“It starts with the people,” Calderoni says. “Make sure you’re thinking about the people implications of what you’re trying to drive. You’ve got people that will help you through the change and people that will resist you. You want to minimize the resisters and maximize the drivers.”

2. Change takes time

You can change technologies very quickly in the right circumstances, but changing the way employees think about their roles, the business, and your culture doesn’t happen overnight. The time required to change hearts and minds must be built into your change management plan.

“It’s going to take time, Calderoni says. “Be reasonable in your expectations for how long it’s going to take for the change. Build that into your plan. You can be aggressive, but you also need to be realistic.”

3. Start with a vision

Successful change management strategies require a clear conception of what you’re trying to achieve. That idea can’t be too static — you need to allow for alterations along the way — but you need a clear vision of the end-state to get everyone moving in the same direction.

“Make sure there’s a vision,” Calderoni says. “What does success look like after you work through this? It helps you understand the ‘why,’ and letting others appreciate that ‘why’ gets them to buy in.”

4. Engage the stakeholders

To succeed with change management, you need to identify the people who will be most affected by your proposed changes and get them invested in the project. These people will become either the strongest resisters or your most powerful champions for change. If possible, involve them in the creation of your change management vision from the outset.

“Understand who needs to be part of that change and make sure they embrace it,” Calderoni says. “Make sure they’re willing to make the change and make them advocates.”

5. Know the tradeoffs

All changes have knock-on effects. If you devote people and budget to one project, some other project or process will suffer. When planning for change, identify other areas that will be affected and seek to quantify that effect to understand the tradeoffs you’ll be making.

“Understand that you can’t do everything,” Calderoni says. “Make sure you prioritize what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.”

6. Work with the willing

Listening to dissenting voices can be valuable, as they may have considered tradeoffs that you haven’t. But you can’t successfully change an organization if individuals are fighting you every step of the way. You need to work with people that share your vision and let go of the ones that can’t.

“Make sure you’ve got key individuals, especially those in critical roles, that are your drivers,” Calderoni says. “They understand what you’re trying to accomplish and are willing participants, not resisters. That will give you the momentum to overcome.”

7. Communicate, communicate, communicate

A clear vision of your goal won’t help much if you don’t share it. Calderoni says he’s used town halls, emails, newsletters, intranet sites, videoconferencing, and more to share visions for change with employees. Do everything in your power to get your vision across and instill a sense of mission in employees.

“You want to get them out of their personal situation and get them to think broader,” Calderoni says. “That’s easier said than done. Sometimes you bring them in and try to have a brainstorm session. Get them out of their day-to-day. Help them understand and appreciate that there are other ways of doing things. Take it away from them and put it on the need to win.”

8. Listen

Communication isn’t one way. The stakeholders that are closest to the thing you’re seeking to change often have insights that you don’t. Their feedback is essential.

“Listen to as many people as possible,” Calderoni says. “Get input going in and listen as you’re working so you understand when you need to make course corrections.”

9. Empower the silent majority

In any situation, a few voices are likely to be the loudest. But that doesn’t mean they speak for everyone. Make sure you seek opinions from those who may not otherwise speak up. Anonymous polls and surveys are one way, but Calderoni notes you may need to train and encourage otherwise silent individuals to speak up.

“There are always resisters with the loudest voices,” Calderoni says. “They don’t necessarily know the best advice. Engage the right people and encourage them to speak up. Empower those individuals to have a voice.”

10. Learn as you go

As 19th-century Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke once declared, “No battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy.” That truism is just as valid when it comes to change management. As you lead your organization through change, new and unexpected challenges will arise. The success of your change management depends upon adjusting to those challenges.

“Know that at every step you will have to course-correct and re-evaluate to make sure you’re still on the mark,” Calderoni says. “New information will get you to end game.”