What is Change Management?
Change management (sometimes called configuration management) is how companies manage the many changes that happen during ideation, design, manufacturing, service and beyond.
Sounds simple enough, right? But if you’ve ever tried implementing change before, you’ve seen the unique challenges that quickly arise. Fostering buy-in from leadership teams, responding to employee resistance, training everyone on new processes or new technology, and other such complexities come from the human side of change.
Taking the time to understand the intricacies of the change management process will help you and the other change leaders reduce issues as you develop successful change initiatives.
Drawing from long-standing change management models and methodologies like ADKAR or the Kotter method, we've put together this simple guide to help you implement change in your organization.
The Three Levels of Change Management
Prosci, a global leader in change management solutions, identifies three levels of change management: the individual, the organization, and the enterprise. Successfully implementing change will require change leaders to give attention to each of the three levels.
Drawing from fields like psychology and neuroscience, individual change management happens when organizations get the right message to the right people in the right way to ensure that changes stick. Resistance is normal. People don't typically like change. That's why it can be helpful to meet people where they are.
It can be hard to see the human-trees in the collective-forests, but every team, every department, and even every company is made up of individual people. A change management strategy that focuses on these individuals enables change leaders to support and encourage team members throughout the company's change efforts. As individuals feel more supported, they will have an easier time embracing the necessary changes, allowing the entire collective to move forward together.
Organizational or Team
While change always happens on the individual level, most business environments do not allow for change leaders to focus on one person at a time. Even simple, short-term change projects would take an unreasonable amount of time. Organizational change management helps solve this problem by applying change management strategies to every person touched by the change.
Focusing on the organizational or team level still requires change leaders to think about the human side of things. It just targets the key people involved. Leaders start the organizational change management process by identifying which employees and stakeholders will need to change (and in what ways) for the project to succeed.
Once the people have been identified, change managers will work with project management to create a customized and detailed roadmap that leads the team to the desired goal. The map showcases some of the necessary stops the people will make along the way including becoming aware, completing training, and receiving coaching sessions.
The final level of change management happens when the entire organization is prepared and equipped to effectively implement change as needs arise. Such adaptability occurs when change management processes are embedded into all levels of the organization. Roles, processes, projects, structures, new initiatives, everything – all contribute to effective change management.
Reaching the enterprise level of change management means that individuals throughout the company have an easier time adapting to change and adopting new processes. Achieving this allows organizations to adapt more quickly to whatever comes up in an ever-changing world.
7 Rs of Change Management
The 7 Rs of change management serve as a helpful checklist of valuable pieces of information to be considered when a change request comes up.
Each R represents a question:
- Raised - Who originally raised the change request?
- Reason - What’s the reason behind the change?
- Return - What returns are we looking for?
- Risks - What are the risks involved in the requested change?
- Responsible - Who is responsible to test, implement, and iterate the change?
- Resources - What resources are required to deliver the change?
- Relationships - Are there relationships between this change and other business changes?
Who originally raised the change request?
You've heard the expression "too many cooks in the kitchen?" Well, implementing change has a tendency to start adding up cooks in a pretty small kitchen. This typically ends with communication errors, misunderstandings, and other roadblocks that delay or even stop the change.
Knowing the origin of a change request can help eliminate all this confusion and simplify communication. Organizations that create centralized systems for recording change requests will have an easier time locating the original requester and managing the request.
What’s the reason behind the change?
Change is a big deal in any organization. It's important that those requesting change have a valid reason to do so. Otherwise, your change leaders will be getting requests every time someone runs into a situation they don't care for.
Having the answer to this question will also help organizations start to think about the risks and rewards of each request. Major changes that yield few business benefits won't be worth the risk, and some requests, even if they have potential, might have too many dangers associated with them. Either way, the change management team won't have a clear picture of the problem unless they understand the reason behind the change request.
What returns are we looking for?
Knowing the reason helps establish a starting point, but knowing the projected end result helps leaders envision the potential success of a change request.
A critical, though not exclusive, element here is financial return. Going through the hassle of change management doesn't usually make sense unless without a reasonable ROI. Change projects with greater returns – financial or not – will become the priority, and money-saving or earning potential will create a special sense of urgency.
What are the risks involved in the requested change?
Implementing change will always involve risk. It's inevitable. The key question is how much risk. Knowing the answer will help organizations decide whether or not the change is worth it.
Change leaders should also think of another question, though. What risks do they take by not implementing the change? Sometimes the real risk comes from refusing to change.
Imagine a real old-fashioned sales team that does things manually. Paper and pencils, even. Embracing a team-wide digital transformation would definitely require risk. It'd frustrate many of the employees and require extensive retraining. But in a digital world, organizations who reject the change actually take a greater risk in the end because of the ways they will struggle to keep up with their competitors.
Who is responsible to test, implement, and iterate the change?
Some changes sound great on paper. Everyone gets excited about the vision or the potential for success that they can easily forget about the nitty-gritty work that needs to be done.
This question helps organizations evaluate whether or not they have the people ready to implement the change at hand. Leaders might lean on their human resources department here for help to see if the organization has the human capital to undergo the change. This should not be taken lightly because it takes a lot of people to effectively implement change.
What resources are required to deliver the change?
Without the right resources, even the greatest ideas can't make it to the end of the project roadmap. Considering the organization's availability and infrastructure will help eliminate problems later on down the road.
If an organization wants to implement a new process for tracking inventory, they need to first make sure that they have all the right tools in place to accomplish this. The concept may be great, but if the people are not equipped to succeed, they will have a harder time seeing the value of the change and may even abandon it.
Are there relationships between this change and other business changes?
All the various departments, teams, and projects running around in an organization work together, and implementing positive change in one place can have negative effects on another.
Because of this, change leaders will want to think about how each change might affect other projects throughout the company. Changing the sales team's CRM right before marketing launches a new product will probably make it harder to get buy-in from either department.
Management teams can easily avoid situations like this by taking the time to think about this question early in the change management process.
12 Principles of Change Management
1. Consider the Human Side First – People are at the heart of change. Understanding this is crucial for implementing successful change.
2. Involve the Right People – Getting the right team in place for leading change early helps the entire process run smoothly. People with passion and excitement for the change initiative will function as advocates and can help encourage others to see the value in the change.
3. Start it From the Top – Finding senior executives and other organizational leaders that support the change can shape the organization's view of the change.
4. Don't Neglect the Bottom – Organizational change management will often trickle down from the top, but change will mostly affect the people in lower levels of the organization. Gaining their support early on will speed up adoption and reduce roadblocks.
5. Cast a Vision – One of the most effective ways to get others involved is to help them imagine a better world. Cast a vision that shows them that they don't have to settle for the status quo and the proposed change makes their work lives better.
6. Articulate a Clear and Consistent Message – People can only get on board with a vision if they understand it. Organizations who communicate a clear message that sounds the same from every leader will have an easier time with adoption than those with complex and inconsistent language.
7. Write Stuff Down – Documentation functions in two ways here. First, having the vision and mission statements written down helps keep the language clear and consistent. Second, documenting the initial change request, the roadmap, goals, and other elements of the process make it easier to keep everything on track.
8. Prioritize Ownership – People get more involved when they feel they have ownership over the process. Assign roles and tasks that empower the staff instead of just telling them orders.
9. Assess the Culture – Implementing change gives organizations a unique chance to evaluate their company culture in various places. Doing this early on in the process enables change leaders to anticipate how people will respond to the change so they can prepare to respond accordingly.
10. Address the Culture – Cultural assessment finds its fulfillment in cultural address. If you see a culture of resistance and anger towards change, address these concerns. Setting clear expectations for staff gives them something to look at and assess themselves. Modeling that behaviour can go even further.
11. Expect the Unexpected – Change naturally lends itself to unplanned occurrences. It's just part of the process. While this shouldn't be used as an excuse to loosen up the planning phase, leaders can expect some level of chaos in the change management program.
12. Talk to People – Few things will gain support like allowing your employees to have a voice. Surveys, feedback cards, face-to-face meetings – all these things can give you an understanding of what your people actually feel about the change. Arming yourself with this information will make it easier to evaluate their concerns and respond accordingly so that the process moves forward.
Evaluating the Need for Organizational Change Management
A full-scale change management plan isn't necessary for every little change an organization requires, but organizations can evaluate their needs by answering a few questions.
Will the change have implications across your organization or is it primarily relevant for a select few? If you lean to the first selection, you will probably benefit from a more in-depth strategy.
Will the change affect core business processes and procedures or does it only apply to a small portion of operational workflows? Anything that modifies important processes and practices throughout the organization will require a change management plan.
Will the change affect customers? All changes that will have effects on the customer or end-user should go through a full change management plan so that implementation does not jeopardize any customer relationships.
How to Create a Change Management Plan
Your change management plan will function as a roadmap for the entire change project. Getting it right at the beginning will set you up for success and save a ton of headaches later on.
The details for each plan will differ from project to project, but every change management plan will follow these 5 steps.
1. Define Goals - Successful change requires clear, specific goals that your team can measure. Because of this, part of this phase will also include setting metrics. Defining these early will help everyone stay on track throughout the process.
2. Establish the Team – A change project is only as good as the people behind it. Gaining the support of key stakeholders will help kickstart the project and recruiting the right team members will simplify implementation. Those employees who show excitement about the project's vision will particularly come in handy because they are the ones who can help create buy-in later on.
3. Develop a Process for Documentation – Change management involves lots of... well, change, and change can get confusing real quickly, especially when lots of people get involved. Change leaders can reduce confusion by having a clearly marked path for documenting requests and recording changes, providing visibility for those who need it. Project and product management tools can make this much easier.
4. Execute – Once your team has done the hard work of creating a plan, you are ready for implementation. Sticking with your plan will feel difficult at times, and it could be tempting to sway into new territories. If the change management team did the hard work early on, then you should be able to trust the plan you've created. Employee resistance and roadblocks will inevitably come up, so having a plan for addressing these ahead of time will help reduce the amount of reactionary responses.
5. Reinforce – Major changes usually don't just get adopted one time. You want to come up with ways that ensure "stickiness," but even still, it often takes frequent reinforcement and reminding. You can plan ahead for this by offering incentives, coaching, and ongoing training. Anything that supports the staff and gets them to see how the new vision brings positive change to their current state will help them get on board.
Three Phases to Change Management Success
A successful change management model doesn't happen in one quick set. It happens in three phases.
You can think of it like you would think about taking a long road trip. You don't just get in the car and drive. You prepare for the journey. Change management is the same, and the following three phases can help set you up for success.
Phase 1: Preparing for Change – Before each road trip, you want to make sure your car can handle the trip, right? You check the oil, tire pressure, gas, all that stuff. The same thing applies in change management.
Organizations can prepare for their change by setting their goals, establishing a strategy, and getting a team in place. If the change management engine is ready to go, it makes the whole journey run smoother.
Phase 2: Managing Change – Prepping the engine obviously isn't the main goal: the trip is. All the planning in the world means nothing if you don't actually implement the changes. That's what phase two is for.
This is where the rubber meets the road in the change management process. You've got your roadmap set up and your strategy established. All you have to do is go for it.
Phase 3: Reinforcing Change – This one is probably the easiest phase to overlook. Road Trips take a toll on your car, and maintaining its functionality means checking in on it after you've completed the journey, too. One oil change doesn't last forever. You have to check in over and over again.
The same truth applies to change management, too. The work isn't done after implementation. People will need regular support to ensure that the hard work done in phase 1 and 2 continues to stick with them.
Five Steps to Successful Change Management
- Define the need for change - Every change starts with a need, and being able to clearly articulate that need will make it easier to see the value of the change request.
- Communicate the need to people impacted - Create buy-in from stakeholders and team members by helping them see how their jobs will get easier after implementing the change.
- Create change plans - Establishing an effective change management plan will ensure the change actually happens and meets its full potential.
- Implement change plans - Once everything is set in place, make the plan happen. Stick with what you've planned out and don't waiver from solving the problem you defined.
- Evaluate and iterate - Successful change will require regular monitoring and reworking. It takes some time to get the change to stick, so looking for new ways to reiterate what you've already done can be extremely helpful.
Key capabilities for change management software
Change management software will ease the burden carried by the change team. There are lots of options out there, but the best tools share these certain qualities.
- Customizable forms for requesting change – Makes it easier for people to submit changes and for leaders to track and monitor the change requests.
- Change approval – Helps simplify the approval process by incorporating it into the software and sending notifications to the appropriate people.
- Monitoring – Provides visibility for the changes taking place in various levels of the organization.
- Change updates – Enables the team to provide status updates on the change process.
- Assign change – Sends assignments to the appropriate individuals or teams.
- Classify and Reclassify Changes – Allows team members to classify various types of changes.
- Schedule – Creates a calendar that documents the schedule for each change.
- Adjustable change management processes – Makes changes on the fly or creates new processes as they arise.
- Assign roles – Keeps the team organized by helping each person see their specific role in the overall project.
- Historical Tracking – Monitors the change log to keep track of relevant activity.
- Budgeting and Cost Controls – Ensures that the project stays within the budgeting parameters set by the organization.
- Task oriented – Breaks work down into achievable tasks.
8 Change Management Software Tools
- Whatfix – Particularly good for organizations trying to incorporate new technology into their workforce.
- Howspace – Utilizes AI technology to help with large-scale changes in organizations.
- Remedy Change Management 9 – Focuses on helping IT departments manage multiple change requests at once.
- WalkMe – Enables organizations to foster goal completion and alter customers' behavior through desktop notifications, Help Desk access, and increased visibility.
- The Change Shop – Specializes in managing survey-based insights, collaborative feedback, and data collection.
- Viima – Provides smaller teams the ability to manage change without committing to an expensive product (the software is free).
- The Change Compass – Empowers enterprise-level and large-scale organizational change management.
- Engage Your Team – Takes an evaluation-focused approach to change management that can be especially helpful for human resource teams as an organization undergoes a large change.
Benefits of change management
Companies who have strong change management can expect the following benefits:
- Faster time to market – Go-to-market strategies require flexibility and adaptation. An effective change management program embeds these qualities within the organization and speeds up the process for getting products to customers.
- Increased revenue – Change management simplifies workflows by helping teams consistently adopt best practices. The increased efficiency allows the organization to eliminate wasteful time and allows them to focus on revenue-generating tasks.
- Higher productivity – Streamlined change processes ensure that no one has to wait around for their work and enables employees to spend more time on important tasks.
- Less rework – A clear change management roadmap eliminates redundant work and keeps everyone on track to achieve the business's objective.
- Higher product quality – When change management becomes a part of the organization's culture, adopting new and better quality assurance processes becomes second nature to the employees, ensuring the highest quality possible every time.
Change doesn’t come easy in business, but with a strong change management strategy, leaders can guide their people towards the changes they want to see in their organization.
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