A step-by-step guide to implementing a Change Management Process

by Thiago Leite - April 22, 2019

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” —Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Change is never easy for those involved in it. That’s why many resist it, in fact. This is a reality turned all the more problematic when we consider these two things about change: change is necessary and change is inevitable.

Yet, despite knowing that, according to McKinsey only 30% of change initiatives succeed. This is far from an optimal performance.

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So you might ask how can we better deal with it? What can be done to lessen pain and enhance the perceived benefits that come from it? Well, the answer to that is more complicated than it seems, because there are two aspects to change. One is the formal: that related to processes, strategy and structure. That’s where the discipline of Change Management comes in. While the other is the informal one: how it all connects with the culture. In other words, how will these changes really work here.

You see, more often than not, we deal with changes in a reactive manner. We don’t think about it or act on it until it has reached us. However, by understanding all its complexities and addressing them, we can lessen the aforementioned “growing pains”. In order to do so, let’s explain what and how establishing Change Management processes can help your organization.

What composes Change Management Processes

In essence, Change Management Processes are defined by specifying the steps needed from ideation of the change until its delivery. To be fair, many of these steps happen even if you don’t have a process in place. The difference here is that, by being deliberate about them, you will recognize threats and be less susceptible to blind spots as you go.

Of course, as we said before, culture will dictate a lot of the specifics about how change management processes will really apply to your company. Either way, what we are providing here are general steps that should remain the same regardless of who or where these changes are going to happen.

Define the Goal of the change

Seems like a no-brainer, but change for the sake of change can be a thing, and it inevitably leads to a phenomenon called “Change Fatigue”. To avoid falling for that trap, before pushing for a change, consider what is the organization going to get out of it that is not possible in the current state of affairs. Is that goal also aligned with the company’s strategy, its mission and its vision? If not, is the change so deep that it may require these things to be revisited as well?

This is an important step not only for yourself, but also to be able to get the buy-in from other stakeholders (another step which will be discussed further down below).

Identify what is needed for the change to occur

What are the resources necessary to develop the new product? Who will be in charge of what? Are these people aware of their role in the change? Without clarity on these topics beforehand, you might find yourself scrambling for resources midway through development, or having people feeling burdened by a sudden shift in their priorities they never saw coming.

Get the stakeholders onboard of the change

Communication is key. Without support, the change will certainly be more painful and slow than it needs to be. Be aware, though, this shouldn’t just be about what you think. Take time to discuss the idea with those who will be most involved in carrying out the changes – these may or may not be managers, by the way. Explain the ‘whys’ and get their inputs. Address their concerns with care and respect if you want their buy-in.

Most importantly keep yourself open to suggestions. You might be surprised!

Create a change roadmap

In order to actually implement the change and reach the desired results, devising a plan that takes into account all the practical aspects can help assessing challenges beforehand. Things like costs, milestones and measurable KPIs all come to fruition on this step of the process. Having exercised the previous steps will, of course, help on defining the roadmap. Although you will never be able to predict every aspect successfully, this is not an excuse to just throw some random numbers together without much thought behind them.

Spot the potential blockers in the process early on

As a second part of the roadmap step, it’s important to foresee where the gaps in your plan are. What could hinder the progress of the desired change? We already spoke about stakeholders’ buy-in earlier, so just like in the previous step, here you are looking out for the practical issues. These can range from need of new tools and equipment, to training in new skills or a structural reorganization inside the company. For the latter, it’s essential to have all the key stakeholders in the loop and well-informed about what the reorganization will mean for everyone, so they can carry out the communications and implementation of it in alignment.

Monitor and review the change progress as you go

Even with the stakeholders supportive of the change and a roadmap in hand, there are risks inherent to the nature of any change process. You must keep tabs on how these risks evolve over time, establish a strong line of communication with stakeholders so unforeseen challenges can be addressed timely. Especially early on, there may be some resistance as the change starts to impact others across the organization. Addressing common fears and frustrations in an open manner, opening a feedback channel of communication, are bulletproof solutions to this.

Also, refer to the milestones and KPIs defined earlier as the change is rolled out. They should guide you as a reference point for whether the change and the change process itself are being successful or if they need reviewing.

Share the success

One often overlooked aspect of any big organizational transformation is to actually show recognition for the effort everyone put into it. Take time to give positive feedback to those who embraced the change and made it happen. It improves the atmosphere and, as we said earlier, these informal aspects play a decisive role on the success of the whole process.

Changes may be difficult at first, and they may often fail due to lack of a Change Management Process. However, when all is said and done, it’s still worth pursuing them to continually improve ourselves and our teams. And with a well thought-out process in place, the odds should be on your side.

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