As the leader of an organization, you likely feel inundated by change. It is, as they say, the only constant. Some change is unplanned and unavoidable, and you’re left reacting to the fire. Other change is planned years in advance, but may still have unexpected twists and turns that the most experienced leader could not have anticipated. Planned change or not, skilled organizational change practitioners know that there are strategies to help ensure that your organization makes it through the change to tell the tale.
What is organizational change management? Organizational change management is the support for the people side of the change. While project and technical managers plan meticulous detail around the product, workflow or personnel change being implemented, the people impacted are oftentimes left out of the plan until much too late in the process. In many cases, project leaders view organizational change management purely as training, and they do not begin to consider a plan for engaging end users until the product or change is ready for go-live. This, oftentimes, leads to the change failing.
Some compelling statistics support the importance of this:
● The typical organization has undertaken 5 major changes in the past 3 years.
● 75% of organizations expect to multiply the types of change initiatives they will undertake in the next 3 years.
● Of the changes reported, 50% are viewed as clear failures, 34% as clear successes, and 16% as mixed results.
Involving an organizational change management strategy from the very onset of the project is an effective way to ensure that the individuals affected by the change will be appropriately prepared for, and ready to move forward with the organizational transformation at the time of implementation.
Organizational Change Strategy One: People First
The mission of an organizational change management strategy is to focus on the people. This does not mean simply bringing the change to the people, it means involving the people in the change. Prosci, a leader in change management training, research and methodology, provides a model for assessing impacted end users throughout the course of the change, known as the ADKAR model:
● Awareness: the individual’s awareness of the need for change
● Desire: the individual’s own desire for the change
● Knowledge: the individual’s knowledge on how to change (for example, training and resources)
● Ability: the individual’s ability to perform the change (for example, actual practice and performance)
● Reinforcement: The individual’s willingness to remain adapted to the change
A key factor in the ADKAR model is the understanding that while for some individuals the journey may be linear, for most, it is not. An effective leader will have an understanding of where their team is throughout the course of the change, with an acceptance of the fact that an individual showing “desire” one day may shift back to “awareness” the next. Regularly assessing end user engagement and involving them in the change early on in the process is vital to a project’s success.
Ultimately, this is part of an organizational change management team’s readiness work, which aims to ensure that all affected end users are ready and prepared for the change in advance of implementation. Readiness work begins far in advance of training, but continues even once formal training begins.
Organizational Change Strategy Two: Align Your Teams
While it is essential to ensure that you are monitoring your impacted end users’ status and engagement, it is equally imperative to have a healthy project or change planning team. A project team that is out of alignment will quickly create issues project-wide which may impact the success of the change.
One approach is to envision leadership/sponsorship, project management, and change management as three equal parts of a triangle. The Prosci Change Triangle model helps to clarify the essential role played by all parts of the project team. Setting up regular check-in meetings involving these groups will help to solidify this model, strengthening the health of the project team, and thus strengthening the likelihood for success of the change.
Organizational Change Strategy Three: Communication is Key
This strategy applies both to within the project team and across the organization: communicate widely, early and often. Within the project team, eliminating the possibility of individual teams working in silos is critical to the success of the change. Bridging together cross-functional teams by offering regular meetings and opportunities for communication will enhance the health of the team and the success of the change.
Across the organization, transparency and involvement in the change increase the likelihood of the transformation’s success. The more prepared the organization feels in advance of the change, the better. Truly leaning into the work described in Strategy One will help ensure that this communication is happening throughout the course of the planning period, rather than waiting for immediately before implementation of the change.
Organizational Change Strategy Four: Reinforce the Change
After a successful change, it is important to celebrate – but also to continue reinforcing the efforts. Many organizations experience failures shortly after large transformations because they feel they’ve made the necessary shift, and they pause. It is critical to not only continue reinforcing the change, but to continue considering the next improvements to be made.
Additionally, to truly reinforce the transformation just completed, be sure an effective sustainment system is in place. This is oftentimes an investment that can be overlooked, but is an important one to consider. After the time, effort and money spent on a full organizational transformation, continuing the investment to ensure the change is reinforced is well-worth reviewing the budget to find the funding necessary to support a sustainment plan.
As mentioned in the introduction, changes can be planned or unplanned. Luckily, these strategies can be applied to both types of change.
For planned changes, implement an organizational change management strategy at the same time you begin scoping the project. While this can seem like an expense you may be tempted to cut, it is worth finding the budget for. Having a focused plan to keep your team involved and engaged from day one will increase the likelihood that the change will stick.
For unplanned changes, ensure that you’re utilizing the strategies as you react to the change. First things first: keep your people informed and engaged, as much as you are able to. They likely are hoping for any shred of information that you can share, and will greatly appreciate transparency. Then, ensure that your primary affected teams are aligned to respond to the change, that communication is regularly occurring without obstacles, and, once the change is resolved, that reinforcement is in place as necessary.
As organizational change management becomes a regular part of your culture, it will come naturally for future planned and unplanned changes, and will further improve your organizational health.