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What Is Change Management? (+Best Practices)

By Tara Porter
Updated February 12, 2024

This detailed guide covers everything you need to know about change management. Learn about popular methods, use case scenarios, software tools, and more.

Change is a constant in today's world, and organizations that embrace it effectively are the ones that thrive. But navigating change can be tricky.

That's where change management comes in. It ensures smooth transitions, minimizes disruptions, and maximizes the benefits of change. Whether you're implementing a new technology, restructuring your team, or merging with another company, change management offers a structured approach to guide you through the process.

Definition of Change Management

Change management is the process of guiding individuals and organizations through transitions effectively. It involves planning, implementing, and embedding changes in a way that minimizes disruptions and maximizes success.

Why Is Change Management Important?

Simply put, change without proper management can be disastrous. It can lead to:

  • Resistance: Employees may feel confused, overwhelmed, and fearful, leading to decreased productivity and morale.
  • Unrealistic expectations: Unclear communication and understanding can lead to disappointment and frustration when expectations aren't met.
  • Failure: Unforeseen challenges and inadequate support can derail the change initiative, leaving the organization in a worse position.

What Are the Benefits of Effective Change Management?

What are the benefits of change management?

By actively managing change, organizations can see many improvements, including:

  • Increased success: A well-defined process raises the likelihood of your company achieving its desired outcomes and maximizing the change's potential.
  • Reduced disruption: Proactive risk mitigation minimizes disruption to operations, ensuring a smooth transition.
  • More engaged employees: Feeling involved, informed, and supported throughout the process increases employee engagement and contribution to the change's success.
  • Improved organizational agility: Strong change management enables organizations to adapt to market shifts, embrace new technologies, and continuously improve.
  • Stronger organizational culture: Effective change fosters collaboration, trust, and open communication, crucial for long-term success.

What Are the Different Types of Change Management?

Change management can be categorized into various types based on the nature, scope, or focus of the change. Here are some types:

  1. Organizational Change: Involves changes in an organization's structure, strategy, business processes, or culture to improve efficiency, adapt to market conditions, or implement new technologies.
  2. Strategic Change: Focuses on major shifts in an organization's mission, vision, goals, or competitive positioning. It often involves significant restructuring or rethinking of the overall business strategy.
  3. Process Change: Refers to modifications in operational procedures, workflows, or systems within an organization. It aims to enhance efficiency, quality, or effectiveness in delivering products or services.
  4. Technological Change: Involves the adoption of new technologies or systems, such as successful implementation of new software, hardware, automation, or digital transformation initiatives.
  5. Cultural Change: Focuses on modifying the company cultures, values, beliefs, behaviors, and norms within an organization. It aims to create a more adaptive, innovative, or customer-centric culture.
  6. Incremental Change: Refers to small, gradual adjustments made over time to existing processes, products, or services. It is often continuous and less disruptive compared to radical changes.
  7. Transformational Change: Involves comprehensive and fundamental shifts across multiple aspects of an organization, often requiring a significant cultural and structural overhaul.
  8. People-Oriented Change: Concentrates on managing the human aspects of change, including communication, training, motivation, and stakeholder engagement to ensure successful adoption of new initiatives.

These types of change often intersect and can be intertwined within an organization's change initiatives. Successful change management often involves a combination of these types, tailored to the specific needs and context of the organization.

Examples of Change Management in Different Departments

While change management can refer to change at the organizational level, it can also refer to change within specific departments. Here are some examples of how change management might look in different departments:

Project Management:

  • Implementing a new project management software
  • Launching a new product or service
  • Restructuring a project team or changing project goals

Human Resources:

  • Merging two companies and integrating their HR practices
  • Implementing a new performance management system
  • Conducting workforce reductions or layoffs

Information Technology:

  • Migrating to a new cloud-based system
  • Upgrading IT infrastructure or software
  • Implementing a new cybersecurity policy or data protection measures

Operations:

  • Introducing a new lean manufacturing process or automation technology
  • Implementing a new safety program or ergonomic changes
  • Restructuring departments or changing production processes

Finance:

  • Implementing a new budgeting and forecasting system
  • Rolling out a new payroll system
  • Changing accounting standards or financial reporting requirements

These are just a few examples of when each department would utilize change management. The specific challenges and opportunities faced by each department will determine the specific change management strategies that you need.

What Are the 3 Core Concepts of Change Management?

The three core concepts of change management revolve around understanding, planning, and implementing change effectively within an organization:

What are the core concepts of change management?

  1. Understanding the Need for Change: This involves recognizing and articulating why change is necessary. It includes assessing the current state, identifying the drivers for change (be it internal or external factors), and creating a compelling case or vision for the desired future state. Understanding the need for change involves engaging stakeholders, communicating effectively, and ensuring clarity about the reasons behind the change initiative.
  2. Planning and Preparation: Once the need for change is understood, the next step is planning and preparing for its implementation. This involves developing a comprehensive change management plan that outlines the strategies, resources, timelines, and responsibilities required for successful execution. It includes identifying potential risks, mitigating factors, and establishing measurable goals and milestones to track progress. Additionally, this phase often involves preparing the organization through training, communication, and involving key stakeholders in the process.
  3. Implementation and Sustaining Change: Execution is where the planned changes are put into action. It involves managing the transition from the current state to the desired future state. Effective implementation requires strong leadership, clear communication, active engagement of employees, and the ability to adapt and address challenges as they arise. Sustaining change involves embedding new practices, monitoring progress, collecting feedback, making necessary adjustments, and ensuring that the change becomes a part of the organization's culture and ongoing operations.

These core concepts are interlinked and iterative, often requiring revisiting and refining throughout the change management process to ensure that the transition is smooth, sustainable, and aligned with the organization's goals.

What Is a Change Management Process?

A change management process typically involves several key stages:

  1. Planning: Defining the desired change, identifying stakeholders, and developing a plan for implementation.
  2. Communication: Communicating the change to all stakeholders, ensuring they understand the rationale and the impact.
  3. Training: Providing training and support to employees to help them learn new skills and adapt to the change.
  4. Implementation: Rolling out the change in a controlled and monitored manner.
  5. Reinforcement: Embedding the change into the organization's culture and ensuring it becomes the new normal.

Here's a helpful resource that walks you step by step through creating a change management plan.

What Are Popular Change Management Models?

  • Lewin's Change Management Model: This three-stage model involves unfreezing the current state, moving to the desired state, and refreezing the new state.
  • Kotter's 8-Step Change Model: This model outlines eight key steps for successful change, including establishing a sense of urgency, creating a guiding coalition, and developing a vision for the future.
  • Prosci ADKAR Model: This model focuses on five key outcomes for successful change: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement.

What Are Common Change Management Obstacles?

No matter how well-designed a change management plan is, it can encounter obstacles. Here are some of the most common challenges:

  • Lack of leadership commitment: Leaders play a crucial role in driving change. Without their visible commitment and support, the change initiative can lose momentum and fail. To assist with this, secure leadership buy-in early in the process and empower them to champion the change. Regularly assess their concerns and get their feedback.
  • Poor communication: Unclear or inconsistent communication can lead to confusion, frustration, and resistance to the change. To help with this, develop a comprehensive communication plan that reaches all stakeholders through appropriate channels. Encourage open communication and feedback throughout the process.
  • Inadequate training: Employees may not have the necessary skills and knowledge to adapt to the change, leading to errors and inefficiencies. Conduct a needs assessment to identify training requirements. Develop and deliver training programs that provide employees with the necessary skills and knowledge. Utilize a Digital Adoption Platform to offer ongoing support and resources to employees.
  • Resistance to change: Some people naturally resist change, creating challenges and requiring extra effort to overcome their resistance. Establish clear communication with team members to allow them to provide regular feedback. Build a network of change management champions to promote the change and address resistance from peers.
  • Unrealistic expectations: Setting unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment and frustration when they are not met. Set clear and achievable goals and expectations for the change. Communicate these early to all stakeholders and monitor and adjust expectations as needed.

By proactively addressing these common obstacles, you can increase the likelihood of success for your change initiatives and create a more resilient and adaptable environment.

Change Management Software

Here are some of our favorite picks for change management software:

IT Service Management (ITSM) Suites

ITSM suites, such as ServiceNow and BMC Helix ITSM, are comprehensive platforms designed to handle various IT services, including change management. They assist in planning, tracking, and ensuring compliance during changes within an organization's IT infrastructure.

Agile-Friendly Tools

These tools cater to organizations adopting agile methodologies, offering collaborative environments for change planning and execution. One popular solution for this is Jira Service Management.

Workflow Automation and Customization Tools

Platforms under this category allow customization, app creation, workflow automation, and data insights, which are beneficial for managing changes effectively. For example, Microsoft Power Platform allows users to create custom apps, automate workflows, and gain insights to aid change implementation.

Visual Organization and Collaboration Tools

Visual organization platforms, such as Trello or Microsoft Planner, utilize visual boards and adaptable workflows, aiding in organizing and tracking change initiatives.

Communication and Collaboration Suites

Tools in this category (for example, Zendesk) offer communication and collaboration functionalities, useful for various change management processes.

Digital Adoption Platforms (DAPs)

DAPs provide in-app guidance and support during software changes, enhancing user adoption and reducing resistance to new systems or tools. VisualSP offers in-app guidance and support during software changes, aiding users in adapting to new systems.

What is a Digital Adoption Platform

You can click here to get started free with VisualSP.

Conclusion

The importance of managing change properly cannot be overstated. It's crucial for maintaining productivity, morale, and preventing potential disasters that can stem from resistance or unrealistic expectations. If you are focused on organizational success, you cannot neglect change management.

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