Change Management Processes – Your Essential Guide

JFK famously once said that ‘Change is the law of life,’ a statement that is as true in the world of business as it is for the President of the United States. Businesses need to adapt to survive, whatever their industry, but each major change comes with huge risks and the bigger the potential for disaster, the more crucial it is to have an effective change management strategy.

Change management is about creating the structure for smooth and thorough implementation of business changes, ensuring that these changes deliver lasting benefits. There are many suggested methods for achieving these goals, and this guide will give you all the information you need, allowing you to choose which method suits your business and its needs.

The dangers of getting this wrong are potentially catastrophic, as there are so many areas that can be affected. One of these is negatively affecting staff morale by failing to keep them informed and invested in the changes you are implementing, thus leading to the loss of key talents to other companies and a fall in productivity in general.

Failure to effectively communicate your changing strategies to stakeholders and customers can be equally damaging. If you don’t think about the impacts of your changes on the people who are most important to your business, you’re risking losing more than just those people.

Planning Change Management

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, as a million desk ornaments will tell you. The Burke-Litwin Change Model has been designed to define and establish the relationship between 12 factors that affect organisational change. Working through a model like this is an essential part of any change management process, helping your business to understand how the various factors could impact on what you are aiming to achieve.

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The 12 factors in change managementgraph factors in change management processes

  1. External Environment: The first step is understanding how direct and indirect external factors affect your organisation at the moment and how this could change.
  2. Mission and Strategy: What are your organisation’s vision and mission, and how well do your staff understand and buy into it?
  3. Leadership: Look carefully at the leadership structure of your organisation and where the main role models can be found.
  4. Organisational Culture: This defines how the people in your organisation work together, what the organisational values are, and how they influence what you collectively achieve.
  5. Structure: More than simply the hierarchical structure of your organisation, you need to look at the deeper ways in which communication and decision making is done.
  6. Systems: This refers to the policies and procedures that govern how your staff goes about their day-to-day work.
  7. Management Practices: Taking things up a level within your organisation, how do your managers implement and affect the way your corporate vision is achieved?
  8. Work Unit Climate: This requires you to get your staff involved to find out what they think and feel about you and each other and what their hopes and expectations are.
  9. Tasks and Skills: Properly look at how well matched your employees are to the tasks that you are asking them to do, making sure you understand what each position requires.
  10. Individual Values and Needs: Find out what is important to your staff and what they feel you need to do to increase their job satisfaction.
  11. Motivation Level: How motivated are your staffs? If you don’t know this, achieving any kind of meaningful corporate change will be almost impossible.
  12. Individual and Overall Performance: How is your performance when it comes to productivity, quality, efficiency, budget and customer satisfaction?

When you have carefully considered all of these factors, you will be ready to identify where changes need to be made within your business, doing so from a position where you can be confident that they are educated decisions.

Another change management model worth looking at as part of this process is Leavitt’s Diamond, which allows you to work through the impacts of change upon the key components of a business.

The principle behind Leavitt’s Diamond is that all of these key aspects of a business are inter-related, and how well they all interact is key to whether any significant change can be effected successfully. We’ll start at the top of the diamond to explain:leavitt’s diamond graph

  1. Structure: This can be affected by changes in people. For example, if you hire more experienced and qualified staff, there is less need for supervision and positions where this is an important part of employees’ role. It can be affected by changes in tasks because if you significantly alter the kind of tasks you are asking your staff to do, you’ll need to change your structure to fit this. Changes in technology affect structure because new technology often means that some staff’s roles are amended or made unnecessary.
  2. Technology: Changes in people can mean that you need to upgrade your technology to enable new skilled staff to do their jobs effectively. New tasks can mean the same thing because new devices and equipment could be needed to allow these tasks to be completed. And structural changes often mean that new technology is required to automate a process that has previously been manual, etc.
  3. People: If you make a change that affects the tasks that you need your people to do, you will either have to train your existing staff to be able to do them, or hire new staff who already can. The same goes for any major change in structure, which would require some people to be retrained to fit their new roles. Shifting to a new technology would definitely impact on the people who need to learn how to utilise it effectively. If any of these were managed poorly, it would impact on morale and productivity.
  4. Tasks: Changes to people can impact the tasks performed within your business. If you hire someone with a new skill, it can mean a new task can be completed, while losing key members of staff will impact what can still be delivered. Meanwhile, a shift in structure can also mean that the tasks that can be delivered have to be altered, while changes in technology will certainly impact what can and can’t be done

Implementing Change

Changes being made for the right reasons are only going to be effective if they are implemented in the right way. Having a good change management strategy is essential, and one of the masters in this area is Harvard Business School professor John P Kotter. He wrote the influential books Leading Change and The Heart of Change and introduced the  8-Step Process for Leading Change, which was most recently updated in his 2014 book Accelerate.

Kotter’s focus is on how to motivate your staff to drive forward the change you are seeking to implement and how to ensure that the change sticks.

Here’s how it works:8 steps to process change

Source : 8 steps process for leading change

  1. Create a Sense Of Urgency: In this first step, Kotter says that you need to start out with a bold and inspirational message that immediately gets everyone involved inspired and fired up to make effective change happen right away.
  2. Build a Guiding Coalition: To really get things done, you need a project team who have totally bought into your plans and can coordinate the delivery of them.
  3. Form a Strategic Vision & Initiatives: Hopefully, you’ve already got all of this from the previous section, but make sure you’ve clearly defined how the results will be different from what has gone before.
  4. Enlist a Volunteer Army: You’ve already got a team leading the way, now you need the troops who will go into battle for you and represent you and your mission to all of their colleagues.
  5. Enable Action By Removing Barriers: When you did the research into your policies and procedures, you will have come across those that could hinder your progress. Now is the time to remove them before they cause problems.
  6. Generate Short-Term Wins: Change management is a lengthy process, and if you are going to keep people on board, you need to show them that it’s worth it by arranging quick wins and communicating them to everyone.
  7. Sustain Acceleration: Once you’ve broadcast these wins, capitalise on them and use the positive atmosphere they have generated to drive forwards with important changes.
  8. Institute Change: Make sure the changes stick by demonstrating their effectiveness and importance until they have become the new habits for everyone.

Another, simpler tool for this stage of change management is W Edwards Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle (PDCA), which is designed to enable continuous improvement of processes.

This cycle is more about the continuous day to day management of business processes rather than managing big changes in the way the Kotter model was, but even small changes need to be managed to avoid them causing chaos rather than improvements. Deming’s cycle works in the following manner:

PDCA graphic

  1. Plan: Work out what needs to change and decide how you are going to change it.
  2. Do: Make the change happen.
  3. Check: Use whatever measurements you can to determine whether the change is working.
  4. Act: Use these results to help embed the new procedures into your day-to-day business operations.

As you can see, it’s a similar but abbreviated process, so we would recommend following the Kotter model for more complex and potentially risky changes in your business.

Communication in Change Management

One of the biggest stumbling blocks in change management comes down to your staff. Forgetting that change impacts on each and every one of them as individuals is a clear path to disaster, and there’s no simple business model that can help overcome that without the understanding of the impact your plans might be having on them.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross came up with a model to demonstrate the stages of grief, and while this might seem to be overstating the effect your corporate changes can have on your staff, it can be deeply troubling to have major changes made to your day-to-day job. Only through understanding this effect can you have a hope of knowing how to deal with it.

kubler ross model graph

Source: Kubler Ross Change Curve

Here’s how the stages could be seen through the course of your corporate changes:

  1. Shock: If you haven’t properly built up to a major change in the way your business operates, this will come as a huge shock to some of your staff and generally not a happy surprise. Even with suitable information beforehand, changes can deeply affect some of your people. You need to know how to deal with this.
  2. Denial: The easiest way to deal with something upsetting is to pretend it isn’t happening. If your employees are burying their heads in the sand rather than embracing the changes you are trying to drive through, there will be little chance of it being successful.
  3. Frustration: Once denial has failed, disaffected staff will soon start to exhibit signs of frustration. As you can probably imagine, this can be hugely problematic for the atmosphere in your workplace as it can be infectious. Frustrated staff will be less productive and increasingly hard to deal with.
  4. Depression: The next stage is the lowest point of the Kübler-Ross change management A staff member at this stage will be completely unproductive and toxic for your environment. You will need to address their feelings quickly or risk losing them to another company.
  5. Experiment: This is the stage at which things can start to get better if the staff member is still with you. At this point, they start to accept that things have changed and that they need to engage with the changes you are implementing if they are to feel better about their jobs.
  6. Decision: After experimenting with the new systems and processes, they start to feel happier in this new world and are well on the way back to being fully productive members of staff.
  7. Integration: If you have successfully managed the situation, this is the stage where they are fully committed to your changes and are hopefully more productive; exhibiting better morale and greater motivation than before the change was implemented.

So, how can help staff through this process quickly and efficiently, to ensure that your changes are embraced and delivered? One possible method is using Nudge Theory, which was introduced in 2008 by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. This theory is used by retailers and governments alike to try and alter and manage the way we all think, shop and live.

Here’s how nudges could be used as part of a change management process to ensure that your staff feel engaged throughout and don’t even dip into the grief model:

  1. iNcentives: If you accept that corporate changes can be traumatic, why not go the extra mile to win buy-in by offering incentives and rewards for embracing the changes?
  2. Understand mappings: Through regular and helpful communications, particularly face-to-face meetings ensure that staff members understand what is happening, what the impacts will be, and what their options are.
  3. Defaults: Where possible, make it easier for staff to switch to new processes and procedures by making them default changes rather than relying on them to ‘opt in’ to them.
  4. Give feedback: Along with the rewards, this stage of communication is crucial in feeding back on how well staff members are doing with the new way of working, both positively and negatively.
  5. Expect error: This is a process, and things will go wrong, but if you’ve prepared for them and can reassure the people involved, you can help them move on and do better.
  6. Structure complex choices: When it comes to communicating some of the more complicated matters, it helps your staff if you can help weigh up the pros and cons with them. Once they have reasoned it through, they are more likely to come down on the side you need them to in order to buy into your new directions.

Change management theories and processes have been around for almost as long as the human race because change is so intrinsic to the human experience. There are countless alternatives to the models we have presented, but they offer a good grounding for you to start thinking about not only how to consider changes, but also how to communicate them to your staff. Follow these, and you will be on the road to lasting change.

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