As a discipline, Organizational Change Management has faced a decades-long uphill battle in establishing consistent understanding and acceptance among business executives and people leaders. While there may be an overarching recognition that Change Management is needed to facilitate employee awareness, engagement, and adoption of organizational change initiatives, executive leaders remain hesitant to invest in sufficient Change Management resources and expertise for a variety of reasons.
Some leaders may view Change Management as simply communications and training, while others may consider Change Management nebulous and unmeasurable. Without leadership clarity on what Change Management is and how it delivers tangible benefits to the organization, the discipline will continue to face these headwinds despite being so crucial to the return on investment (ROI) of people impacting projects.
In my book Learning to Manage Organizational Change: A Practical Guide for Project Leaders and Change Professionals, I defined Change Management as: “A framework of processes, tools, techniques, and activities to support successful employee awareness and sustained adoption of organizational changes to existing business practices or cultural norms.” (Chapter 1 – pages 13 and 14).
This definition captures the essence of the Change Management discipline, with a clear focus on the word “framework”. However, this definition alone may not provide leadership with the clarity on which activities should occur within managed change events.
The answer to the question “what is Change Management about?” lies in the description of five Change Management characteristics, which are necessary to achieve successful change outcomes within project or program engagements. These characteristics are:
- Relationship Building.
- Feedback Loops.
- Corrective Actions.
Relationship Building. Successful Change Management requires the involvement and support of a broad coalition of leaders and employees throughout a project or program engagement. Senior leaders deliver broad messages to the organization about why the change initiative is important, and how this change aligns with the company’s strategic objectives. People leaders deliver targeted messages to their direct reports about how the change initiative and its resulting impacts on business roles, business processes, and technology will directly transform employees’ job functions. Employees also play their part, either by directly providing subject matter expertise to the project team, participating as a member of a Change Agent Network, or providing candid feedback through assessments, surveys, and focus groups.
Change managers, whose primary responsibility is to deliver successful organizational change, need to develop and nurture this broad coalition of change influencers. To successfully achieve this well-functioning network, change managers must develop strong working relationships across the various coalition groups. There must be an element of trust and belief in the change process across the coalition, which can only be developed through effective relationship-building actions.
Communication. There can be no stakeholder change adoption without established two-way communication. Effective communication is required to support the organization’s awareness of the need for organizational change. Constant, targeted communication is also necessary to successfully guide the organization’s impacted employees through their change journey. Thus, communication is an integral ingredient in managing organizational change.
Engagement. This characteristic has very close ties to communication. However, there are clear differences between the two. Communication focuses on content and a target audience and can be delivered passively to employees through channels such as email, bulletin boards, or town hall meetings. Engagement focuses on actively interacting with employees either formally or informally through face-to-face, direct conversations, focus groups, or team meetings. Successful engagement between senior leaders and employees is necessary to build trust and confidence that upcoming organizational changes are important and beneficial to the company’s well-being and future viability.
Feedback Loops. When executing Change Management activities, feedback loops are critical to evaluating the effectiveness of these activities. Every Change Management plan should clearly outline and define feedback mechanisms to elicit impacted stakeholder sentiments, concerns, frequently asked questions, and recommendations to improve the probability of a successful organizational change journey. Feedback loops can take the form of senior leadership discussions about their employee engagement actions, employee readiness surveys, change agent network debrief sessions, and employee focus group insights. Without established feedback loops, it will be extremely difficult to measure Change Management effectiveness and deliver successful change outcomes.
Corrective Actions. The insights gathered from the established feedback loops must be converted into actionable decisions to course correct Change Management activities that may not be effectively addressing the impacted stakeholders’ needs within their change journey. Corrective actions are important to keeping employees engaged in organizational change. These actions show that the executive leaders and project team are listening to the voice of the impacted employees, and are flexible enough to learn from any missteps being made within the Change Management effort.
Using these five characteristics to describe to leaders what Change Management is about will significantly increase your probability of success driving home the importance of providing change resources for employee-impacting project and program initiatives. More importantly, focusing on each of these Change Management characteristics within your chosen Change Management framework or methodology will increase the probability of successful change outcomes.
About the Author
Dion Charles is an experienced Change Management consulting professional and the founder of Change Wonks. Dion works with Fortune 500 clients across a variety of industries, to help them achieve their desired return on investment through successful organizational change. He is a Prosci Certified Advanced Instructor, Prosci Certified Advanced Practitioner, and Program Director of the Association of Change Management Professionals Ohio Chapter.
He is also the author of the book Learning to Manage Organizational Change: A Practical Guide for Project Leaders and Change Professionals, and the creator of the online course The Art of Successfully Managing Organizational Change.
Connect with Dion Charles on LinkedIn.