What is change management? A guide to organizational transformation

New systems and strategies can be highly disruptive to your business. Organizational change management can help ensure your transition to new processes goes smoothly.

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How should a change management team be structured?

The OCM team should be integrated with the team responsible for implementing the change. The OCM sponsor should be a senior executive, often the CEO. The sponsor is the cheerleader who describes why the change is important and how it will help the enterprise. This person acquires necessary resources, establishes OCM goals along with consequences for failure to support the change.

The OCM sponsor is supported by an OCM project manager who directs the day-to-day activities of the OCM team. The OCM project manager works closely with the overall program manager responsible for implementing the change. Together the OCM project manager and the overall program manager coordinate training, communications, and supporter recognition.

OCM staff, known as OCM Champions, are supporters of the change who “sell” the benefits to specifics departments, business units, and individuals. They start working with their target group shortly after the program team begins planning. As part of change training, these Champions explain how the change will help the individuals affected.

After implementation, Champions continue to make sure the change is supported and used by the individuals whose jobs have changed. They continue to espouse the benefits of the change and pay particularly attention to anyone having difficulty with the change. Sometimes they merely listen; in other cases they obtain additional training or other help for the struggling individual.

The best Champions are well respected even though they may not be very high in the organization chart. They wield informal power as opinion leaders, performing their duties competently and with grace. Many have been with the enterprise for a long time. Frequently, they serve as informal coaches to new employees who may be more senior in the hierarchy. They motivate others, inspiring them to do a good job. Other employees seek them out to determine if the people leading a major initiative will be persistent enough to make the change stick.

Change Targets are the groups and individuals who need to change their behaviors and their attitudes. They are the recipients of training necessary to implement the change. As they become supporters of the change, they are usually recognized for their support.

For more on leading change, see "8 secrets of effective change leaders."

What are the major steps in a change management program?

Organization change management programs typically have fewer tasks and greater complexity than the program they are supporting. The OCM program has to adapt and change on the fly to accommodate the vagaries of human nature as supporters backslide and skeptics become supporters.

While there are different approaches to OCM, most can be summarized in the four major steps below:

Engage. The program begins when the sponsor creates a vision describing how the enterprise will operate after the change has been implemented. This vision should include the benefits that will accrue to the enterprise and should describe how the change will affect the staff. Ideally, improvements to the work environment will be obvious to the majority of the staff.

As part of engagement, the OCM team discusses the coming change with potential supporters to determine their willingness to support the change and to create a sense of urgency to implement the change. The OCM team also identifies likely skeptics and attempts to determine their concerns. In many cases, the team will commission a formal change readiness assessment to gain a more precise understanding of the enterprise’s willingness to change.

Plan. The OCM team identifies all departments, business units and groups that will need to change along with key stakeholders in each. In parallel, the OCM team analyzes how the various parts of the change will impact the way that people perform their jobs. This analysis enables the OCM team to answer the most common question posed during a major change, “What’s in it for me?”

As it becomes more obvious which stakeholders support the change, which are undecided, and which don’t support the change, the OCM team creates a change plan with specific actions for each individual and group. Individual OCM members are assigned to work with individual stakeholders based in part on the strength of the relationship between the OCM team member and the specific stakeholder.

During this phase, the OCM team begins to assess the degree to which stakeholders accept the change. At this point, acceptance measures are informal and based on impressions from meeting behavior, one-on-one discussions and other interactions.

Rollout. During implementation, the OCM team communicates with individuals at all levels in the enterprise to gain their support for the change. Communications typically begin with a formal announcement from the CEO, supported by videos, emails, work station log-on announcements, town hall meetings, etc. The OCM team hopes to empower supporters and help individuals or groups become successful quickly. The OCM group identifies and celebrates successes publicly and rewards individuals responsible for each success.

As the rollout continues, attitudinal surveys are frequently employed to better gauge employee acceptance and commitment to the change. Special interventions are created and used for individuals and groups that appear reluctant to accept the change.

Reinforce. Because people rarely behave as others would like them to behave, the OCM team regularly revisits and updates change goals, rewards, communications and consequences. Experience is the best teacher. Repeated interactions with individual stakeholders usually reveals their degree of acceptance, enabling the OCM team to adjust its approach as necessary

Tasks, projects and behaviors that support the change should be part of individual performance plans. Items in the performance plan need to be clear, measureable and achievable. In addition, these items need to be weighted appropriately against the other goals in the performance plan.

Change management is rarely straightforward. The OCM plan may be depicted as a Gantt chart using the same tools as the IT project plan. However, in practice, OCM activities rarely have clear tasks, precedents and durations. Most OCM teams cycle through the four steps above multiple times during any OCM effort. Lessons learned at any point are incorporated into the OCM vision and communications. OCM work is not complete until the change is fully implemented and adopted by the people affected.

See also: "Change management for digital transformation: What's different?"

Who offers organizational change management certification?

A wide variety of universities and associations offer change management certificates and certifications. These include:

  • The University of Virginia’s Darden School offers a “Managing Individual and Organizational Change” certificate designed to create resilient leaders and adaptable teams that can guide enterprise change.
  • Prosci’s Change Management Certification Program is built around a change management methodology with supporting tools that participants apply to a current project.
  • Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business offers a series of online courses leading to a certificate as well as professional development credits with the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)
  • The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) offers two certifications: the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and the SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP).
  • MIT Sloan School offers “Leading Change in Complex Organizations” as part of a Management and Leadership certification.
  • Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business offers a professional Certificate in Change Management focusing on helping organizations alter existing processes, grow, introduce new products, reorganize or undertake other actions to be more competitive.
  • Stanford University’s Organizational Renewal program focuses on design thinking and innovation to implement change within an enterprise.
  • The Association for Talent Development focuses on improving efficiency and service quality through a six step change model taught through case studies.
  • Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies focus on structured change approaches used to introduce new products, improved quality, IT systems, etc.

For more information on additional change management cert opportunities, see "7 change management certifications to boost your IT career."

Why do individuals resist change?

Resistance is a natural part of the change process. When expectations are disrupted, individuals often feel uncomfortable. Even positive changes such as a marriage or the birth of a child can cause discomfort. Here are some of the reasons why employees resist change and how it affects the change management process:

Inability. Individuals may lack the necessary skills or knowledge to operate in the new environment. Fear of the unknown can keep people from fully participating in training. Some worry they will not be able to understand how to operate the new system and will be overshadowed by smarter colleagues. Other groups may lack the resources to operate in the changed environment. This can become a problem during an acquisition if the acquiring company folds a department from the acquired company into its department without appropriately increasing staffing. When acquisitions are justified by claiming the merged companies will eliminate redundant jobs, management is sometimes tempted to eliminate staff before the merger is fully complete. Mergers that occur on paper but not in reality disappoint customers, fragment staff loyalty, and erode IT service levels. For more on this see “Half-baked mergers.”

Unwillingness. People who don’t believe in the change usually resist the change. Reasons vary but can include: They see no value to the new way of operating; they believe the change is too difficult; they perceive the change as too risky. Other people may believe the wrong option was selected. Still others worry their job will be less important and they will no longer be experts.

Change fatigue. Change requires a great deal of mental effort. People who switch languages as they travel from country to country find themselves drained at the end of each day even if everyone they visit attempts to speak the traveler’s native language. The mental effort to understand the words spoken by individuals who do not speak a language well requires intense concentration. Too many new systems, reorganizations, mergers, or other changes can also create change fatigue. After a time, most people crave stability; at some point few people will make the extra effort required to undertake one more change.

Personal issues. Few people lead perfect lives and most worry about something. Individuals close to retirement, facing divorce, serious illness, or other personal issues frequently resist all changes in order to feel they retain some control over their life. Intellectually, these individuals may understand the reasons for the change but emotionally they often find it difficult or impossible to embrace the change. Handling each special case with compassion builds support for the change while insensitive handing can turn the rest of the enterprise against the change.

Resistance is not necessarily a sign of disloyalty or incompetence. Usually, it shows that the resisting individuals either don’t agree with the vision or lack the ability to implement the change. The best change management programs encourage people to discuss their concerns and never suppress dissent. After all, issues cannot be addressed if the OCM team does not know they exist.

More on change management:

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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