I’ve experienced the challenges of change management, both as a leader at a company undergoing a period of major transition and as an executive coach brought in specifically to help leaders navigate change management within their own organizations. There are numerous change management models and tools (and I’ve seen them all). Despite this abundance of tools, change management remains a major stressor for leaders and challenge for organizations. The truth is, when it comes to change management, building a deep commitment and organizational buy-in to the new way of doing things is much more important than any particular system.
What is change management?
For the past half century, change management has been a buzzword in business and the topic of tens of thousands of management books and articles. The term “change management” refers to a set of basic tools or structures intended to keep any change effort under control. The goal is often to minimize the distractions and impacts of the change. Change management is a deliberate process that helps organizations succeed in making big changes. A good program builds a system in which people get the support they need so they are ready and able to embrace the new ways of doing business. Not surprisingly, there are so many books and articles about this because it’s really, really difficult and change management initiatives often fail.
Why do change management efforts fail?
Change doesn’t happen without individuals changing their thinking, beliefs and behavior. And that is a tall order.
According to the Harvard Business Review, “the content of change management is reasonably correct, but the managerial capacity to implement it has been woefully underdeveloped.” The process is often handled from the outside-in, led by HR specialists and consultants instead of learned by managers who lead the organization. Without the specialists involved, sometimes no one feels equipped to put together the plans, handle the processes and/or use the tools. With the specialists involved, corporate leaders can be too hands-off to lead effectively.
This is obviously not a recipe for transformation in an organization. Effective change management requires a partnership between the people in the organization and the outsiders helping to implement the changes. An army of consultants isn’t going to help unless leaders take it upon themselves to invest personally in a successful change management initiative.
How do you move change management from theory to practice?
Long-term structural transformation has some key characteristics that are a part of change management theory:
- Scale: whether the change affects part, all or most of the organization
- Magnitude: if it involves minor or significant changes
- Duration: whether it lasts for years or just months.
- Strategic Importance: how critical is it to the company.
However in practice, leaders know that the impacts of change on people are the most challenging aspects:
- How the teams or entire workforce will react
- How they can get people to work together
- How to lead their people
- How to retain the company’s unique values and culture
Leaders must plan for the human side of change. Change needs to be understood and managed in a way that people can cope effectively with it. Change can be unsettling, so the leader plays a key role as a settling influence.
How do you integrate experts and consultants with the troops on the ground?
In some cases, you need to be ready to build an internal change capability and play the role of the change sponsor or manager. In other words, you are on the team. In advance of a change, you ensure that there are baseline measurements and you may play the role of chief communicator or architect. Change is measured against the project baseline, a detailed description of the scope, schedule budget, and plans for the project.
Other leaders may play a supportive role for change management in teams that they do not directly manage. If you are a long-time leader in the organization, another senior manager may tap you to play this role, supporting their change management initiative and being their support.
While a specialist or consultant may know the process, you ensure fit with the organization and engage others to participate. This is key difference between a leader and a project manager, which may be an outside consultant or a specialist.
Is change in the air in your organization? If so, I am here to help with coaching you and your executives.