What Is Change Management?
November 15, 2022
This blog is the first post in a seven-part series we will be producing on the topic of change management. This series will explore what “change management” means, why it’s essential for your business, how to do it effectively, and pitfalls to avoid.
A Familiar Story
Someone in leadership at your company makes a decision. That decision may be well considered. It may be in the best interests of the company.
But no one consulted you, the person who has to live with this change daily. No one asked you for input, feedback on the change, or how it will impact your daily workflow.
Perhaps you’ve even been the leader that makes this decision. It doesn’t matter if it’s a software change, a change in an internal process, purchasing a piece of equipment, or hiring additional staff. You need and should seek input from others in the organization whom this change will impact.
We’re talking about this when we’re discussing “change management.” There’s a right way to introduce changes to the structure or processes of the business to ensure the change “sticks.” Doing it right increases the chances of success.
There’s also a wrong way to manage change in your company. We’ll discuss those pitfalls as well and how to best avoid them.
What is Change Management anyway?
If you do internet research, there’s a lot of talk about it. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “the planning and introducing of new processes, methods of working, etc. in a company or organization.”
According to Joe Sclafani, owner of Change Management Associates International, change management is “modifying or transforming an organization in order to maintain or improve its effectiveness.” (Note: I highly recommend this podcast!)
The best definition I found comes from Oxford. Their definition of change management is:
The activities and processes employed to take an organization from one state to another. This includes how individuals are informed about, incentivized by, involved in, and supported through the change process, the process of designing and planning the change, and its implementation.
There’s a ton to unpack there, and that’s precisely what I’ll be doing in this blog series. We’ll keep coming back to several of these points throughout the series.
Why do I need to think about “managing” change?
The short answer is that a thoughtful approach will determine the success or failure of solving the problem that prompted the change. Basically, if you screw this up, you’ll still have the original problem that caused you to change things PLUS a bunch of new problems you created.
The longer answer is that, in general, people fear change. It’s necessary, but it causes anxiety, fear, and depression in people. (We’ll dive into this in our second blog in this series – stay tuned for a more in-depth explanation of how people respond to change.)
Knowing this, you can thoughtfully and carefully approach changes in your business in a way that offsets those emotional responses. Done correctly, you can turn the change from a negative, horrible experience into a positive, team-building, and trust-building experience.
Role of Leadership v. Human Resources in Change Management
You, as the leader, set the tone for these changes. Yes, Human Resources can help you roll out any changes once they’ve been decided upon. Other departments can also help; Sales, Production, and Office staff all have a role to play in implementing change management efforts.
Human Resources is a partnership between leadership and the employees. Their job is to help mediate and facilitate initiatives. Sometimes those aren’t fun, like enforcing company policy or termination.
I’ve yet to meet a Human Resources professional that enjoyed those types of confrontations. People in Human Resources are, well, people. And more than that, they’re generally people who LIKE other people. They do what they do because they believe they make a difference in the lives of others with whom they work.
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that Human Resources will roll out the changes for you. Don’t make them your police, enforcing a change implemented without consideration for others. That’s a great way to break trust with the broader team and those critical people who act as an intermediary between you (manager, CEO, owner) and the rest of the workforce.
What’s at stake if you mess up Change Management?
Screwing up change management is much easier than doing it correctly. The Harvard Business Review says, “The brutal fact is that about 70% of all change initiatives fail.”
If you mess this up (and, statistically, most of us will mess it up in part), you risk losing good team members that you’ve worked hard to recruit. You certainly risk losing trust with the team that remains. And, you risk alienating your customer base that supplies your income.
In short, only a few businesses can afford to punt this. It could be a great success or an abject failure for your business.
The good news is that you don’t have to figure it all out for yourself. Others have been where you’re going, and nailing your change management practices could be the key that unlocks massive growth for your business.
We’ll be releasing more blogs in this series, and we’ll cover the psychology behind why your employees (and YOU!) are afraid of change, how to handle different types of change (staff, processes, software) for your business, best practices, and common pitfalls and how to avoid them.
Stick with us for a few weeks, and we’ll show you how to get this right and start growing.