Change can be scary. We’re living through a global pandemic, SpaceX is launching more rockets into space, and scientists have discovered a way to grow mini brains from skin cells. People like the comfort of things they know, like their favorite fuzzy socks or Mom’s chocolate chip cookies. So even when change is a good thing, it might be met with fear and resistance. And when it comes to business, leaders need to recognize that the human side of change can impact their outcomes.
People don’t leave their emotions at the door when they come to work. Helping employees adapt to change can be a deciding factor in whether your business thrives or fails. A change management plan can help smooth the path to implementation of a new technology, transition to a new strategy, or an organizational change.
What is change management?
Change management is the process, communication techniques, and tools to manage the people side of change to achieve a business outcome. "It's helping with the people side of change, and helping people make changes stick," says Rachel Breitbach, senior advisor of change agility, program management and organizational strategy at FarWell. a strategy that puts people in focus, looking at how they're going to react to barriers, and ultimately helping them adopt the change and move forward.
What kinds of changes benefit from a change management process?
The short answer is any change. “It could be a life change, it could be a process change within your organization that doesn't involve technology at all,” says Breitbach. “It could be a technology change, or an organizational structure change where roles are changing and who people report to change. It could be you're merging two companies together, and so how do you integrate cultures? How do you integrate policies? How do you integrate business processes? It could be any of those things.”
Why does change management strategy matter?
We are living in a time of constant change. To survive, companies have to manage complex changes at a rapid pace. According to research by change management company Prosci, having a change management plan increases the likelihood of success. Even when your organizational changes meet the technical requirements, they can still fail. You can have the most brilliant new business process, or sleek new technology, and not deliver results. Success hinges on the people who buy into (or bristle at) these changes in their day-to-day work. But don’t confuse buy in with happiness. “Buy in doesn’t mean people have to like it,” says Dana Otto, senior manager of change management at Zendesk. “It just means they are agreeing to try it.”
How businesses can prepare for successful change management
If a change is worth making, it’s also worth investing the time to get it right. Here are some tips for creating a management plan:
Define the change
What, exactly, is your business trying to change? What is the current state, and what would success look like? What initiatives could your business tackle if the change were to happen? These answers are key to keeping everyone working toward the same goal.
If you dive into a change process and don't measure how something is going current state, your employees may think it was working just fine before. So if your plan isn't working perfectly after the change, they may want to go back to the old way. That resistance can easily make the best plans crumble. Capture some measurements before you start any organizational change to help people see the value in your plan down the road. “That way you can say, ‘Hey, this is how many mistakes we made the old way, and now we're making half of those mistakes in the new way,’” says Breitbach.
Determine your change management team
Who are your sponsors and stakeholders? Who needs to be involved in the change plan? Remember, this group can and should include people from across your organization, not just the leadership. These people can act as change agents to move your project plan forward.
“It’s absolutely critical to communicate with the groups affected by the change plan,” says Otto. Create a change management communication plan to keep your employees and stakeholders informed, and keep in mind that communication isn’t one-way. You need to ensure there is an ongoing feedback loop throughout the process and various communication channels: depending on the complexity of the organizational change, this might include town halls, team meetings, emails from senior executives, updates from the project manager, or pulse surveys. Be as open and honest as possible, but be careful not to share too much information, especially before leadership makes a decision. That can fuel insecurity among your staff if you change course.
What makes up a change management plan?
Once you’ve done the groundwork, your focus is on advancing individual employees through the change.
Change means learning new skills, so employees will need training. Make sure impacted people have the training, skills, and support to succeed. Good communication is essential here, as training is a primary focus of any good change management plan -- but be careful not to rush. Training should take place after those impacted are aware of what is coming, or the end result will be confusion and your change plan could fail.
Change management training for managers
Supervisors and managers play a key role in change management because they hold influence over employees. If managers aren’t on board, their team members won’t buy in. “You never want to blindside leadership with a change plan,” says Breitbach. “They should be with you every step of the way and can help you communicate to their teams.”
Change is hard, and resistance from employees and management is normal and to be expected. Your change management team needs to learn what the roadblocks are to understand how to help move them. You might be surprised by what you learn -- sometimes, people aren’t upset at all. Or they might be afraid of something that isn’t going to happen, and that’s why they’re resisting the project. “Don’t make assumptions about how people will feel about a change,” says Otto. “The biggest mistake I see is when leaders avoid talking to people, and then make decisions based on something that isn’t real.”
Recognizing success and celebration
Successful change management depends on many people putting in a lot of hard work. Be sure to include a celebration in your plan to highlight the launch of new initiatives, as well as long-and short term wins. Wins should be collected, categorized, and communicated early and often to track progress and energize your team to drive organizational change.
Change is reality
Transformation is scary because it’s a leap into the unknown. Recognizing the human side of change is vital in business just as it is at home. Everyone reacts differently to change, and it won’t happen overnight. But a world without change is a world without progress.