By: Sarah Kyo
Organizational change is hard, but it is a constant, necessary factor in an ever-evolving business world. The most productive companies can roll with the punches and pivot when necessary. They can also proactively get ahead of new developments and smooth out the transition with a strategic game plan that includes change management steps.
Implementing new digital transformation initiatives, improving workforce cultural alignment, and dealing with the aftermath of mergers and acquisitions are just a few of the potential changes that a company may face nowadays. To help you be better prepared for the change management steps that your organization needs to take, let’s first take a closer look at what change management is and how certain theories and models have influenced current approaches to change.
History of Change Management
Change management can mean something different to various managers, departments, organizations, and industries, but there are a few common principles. According to the Change Management Learning Center, change management is “the process, tools, and techniques to manage the people side of business change to achieve the required business outcome, and to realize that business change effectively within the social infrastructure of the workplace.” In other words, it is the practice of overseeing and facilitating change, and it is up to managers and other company leaders to decide how the changes will occur at any level and how to communicate that information to their employees.
A few key change management terms include the following phrases:
- Change Management Plans are the strategic action plans that support a specific change initiative or project, such as introducing a brand-new HRIS software to your employees.
- Change Management Processes include a series of steps or activities that shift a change from inception to delivery. Developing a Change Management Plan is just one part of the Change Management Process. In the HRIS example, other steps include finding the right vendor, making sure the software is compatible with your systems, and so much more.
- Change Management Models have been developed based on research and experience on how to best manage change within an organization, in your personal life, or elsewhere.
While there are plenty of change management models out there, here are three well-known, influential examples.
Kurt Lewin’s Three-Step Model
First, how we think about change management today has its roots in modern social, organizational, and applied psychology. In fact, one pioneer is German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin, whose three-step model for change from the 1940s — unfreeze, change, and re-freeze — is still a reference point today. Instead of just forcing an ice cube into a newly desired shape, you initially need to take deliberate action at different stages in order to gradually, effectively make the switch. Similarly, it is important for your organization to put some thought into why a specific change needs to occur in the first place. After the reason has been figured out, you need to help your team members prepare to make that shift before solidifying that change. As Lewin said, “Motivation for change must be generated before change can occur. One must be helped to re-examine many cherished assumptions about oneself and one’s relations to others.”
Everett M. Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation
Next, American communication theorist and sociologist Everett M. Rogers wrote the 1962 seminal book Diffusion of Innovations, explaining how a brand-new idea, trend, product, or behavior is adopted and spreads over time. The key to a successful adoption is using mass media to spread awareness to a large group of people at once as well as interpersonal networks over time to reinforce the messaging. Individuals who are part of a given group, such as a company, fall within one of these five established adopter categories:
- Innovators (2.5 percent of the population) are people who want to be the first to try the latest trend, fad, or innovation. It may be effortless to appeal to this population because they are very open to taking risks and are usually the first to develop new ideas.
- Early Adopters (13.5 percent of the population) are opinion leaders and influencers who embrace change opportunities and feel comfortable with adopting new ideas. Resources such as how-to manuals and implementation information sheets are all you need for them because they understand why the change has to take place.
- Early Majority (34 percent of the population) are rarely leaders, but they do adopt new ideas before the average person. To help them feel comfortable with adopting the change, they may need to see evidence first such as success stories and information about the change’s effectiveness.
- Late Majority (34 percent of the population) are skeptical of change, so they will only adopt a change after it has been tried by the majority. Information on how many other people have tried the innovation and adopted it successfully may influence them to become more receptive to it.
- Laggards (16 percent of the population) are the hardest group of people to bring on board because they are bound to tradition and the way things have always been done. Strategies to appeal to this population include statistics and influence from people in the other four adopter groups.
William Bridges’ Transition Model
Lastly, William Bridges was an American author, speaker, and organizational consultant who created the Transition Model in his 1991 book, Managing Transitions. According to Bridges, there is a distinct difference between change and transition: Change is an external situational event such as a brand-new product or a switch in leadership. On the other hand, transition is an internalized process that each person goes through to come to terms with the new situation after the change occurs.
Transitions can be separated into these three parts:
- Endings are the start of a transition since a pivotal event inspired the process to occur in the first place. People start to come to terms with what has changed and what they are gaining or losing, whether it is an idea, a tool, or a colleague.
- Neutral Zone is a critical in-between time period when the old is gone, but the new has not fully settled in yet. People are creating new procedures, new identities are being formed, and other changes are still in development.
- New Beginnings are the last stage, but they’re also the start of something transformative. If the transition was well-managed, then the people within the organization fully understand the change and their new roles in successfully adapting to this different outlook.
Putting It All Together
When a major change occurs, such as a merger, acquisition, or departmental restructuring, it is so easy to look far ahead at the outcome and the potential benefits, while losing sight of how the change is affecting your individual team members. After all, everyone has their own perspective, attitude, and reaction toward something new and unfamiliar. Providing outlets and resources to help your employees better understand the change, move forward with it, and reach Bridges’ New Beginnings stage, instead of being stuck in the Endings stage, is critical for earning employee buy-in and sustaining the change.
Another way of thinking about change is that it is more than just a one-time event. Instead, it’s a multi-step journey over a time period, just like changing the shape of an ice cube. After creating the motivation for change with your team, you can empower employees to embrace it through effective communication and including your team in the process. Once the change has occurred, you need to re-establish a sense of stability and develop ways to maintain it over the long run.
To increase the odds of creating lasting change, it is important to know your audience. Chances are that you might know different individuals in your organization who fit in each of Rogers’ five adopter categories. By strategically providing them with the resources they need and communicating with them clearly and transparently, you will help them become more familiar and comfortable with the change management process. Along the way, you can identify the innovators and early adopters within your own organization who can support your change management steps and help positively influence the rest of your team to become more accepting of the change.
Eight Change Management Steps
Now that you have a better understanding of change management and a few of the models and theories behind it, what are some practical actions you can take to successfully affect change in your organization? If you have a new idea that will make a great impact, here are eight change management steps you can take to improve the likelihood of getting buy-in from your team members.
- Step 1: Determine the objectives and goals. Before making change happen, it is imperative for you to understand what the benefits will be, in order to help others comprehend them, too. This is a time for self-reflection. What problems are you addressing? Is this potential change reactive or proactive? What will the company look like when you achieve success? Remember to consider the change management models that were mentioned earlier in this article when forming your reasoning and anticipating potential outcomes.
- Step 2: Build a case and present it. Develop a proposal that demonstrates return on investment or ROI. Then, bringing up the case for change to decisionmakers such as key stakeholders and leadership. Provide research, data, and other forms of evidence to support your objectives and goals for undertaking the change management steps.
- Step 3: Develop and plan the new design. After getting approval, decide who is doing what, what your deadline is, and how the change will be implemented. Figure out what resources your team will need and what kind of funding is required. These resources can include infrastructure, equipment, and software systems. Also consider the tools needed for re-education, retraining, and rethinking priorities and practices. An important part of making a plan will be creating an internal communications strategy that takes into account the content and message delivery that will be most effective, efficient, and meaningful to your team members.
- Step 4: Identify key performance indicators, or KPIs, and other ways to measure the successful implementation and performance of your change management plan. For instance, you could measure the employee turnover rate or use employee satisfaction surveys. Depending on what type of change you are trying to introduce to your organization, you should pick the KPIs that make the most sense for your situation that can help with accountability, goal setting, and measuring performance and success.
- Step 5: Communicate the changes to your team with a thematic goal. This is where the more “human side” of change management comes into play. Providing clear and open lines of communication throughout the process is a critical element in all change modalities. Utilizing employee communication software and communication journeys and can be very useful for successfully share the messaging. This is also where leadership and others who are part of the implementation process need to ensure that there is transparency in the workplace, as well as two-way communication structures that provide avenues to vent frustrations, applaud what is working, and seamlessly change what does not work.
- Step 6: Monitor and manage resistance to change. During the implementation of your change management steps, you may encounter people within your organization who question or even resist the changes being made. This is a normal part of the change management process. Anticipate and prepare for resistance by providing people managers and other leaders with tools and resources to address concerns and answer questions, as well as outlets and opportunities for employees to receive clarification and provide constructive feedback.
- Step 7: Celebrate success. During a potentially challenging and trying time, it is even more important to recognize individuals who are adopting the change successfully. Depending on your company culture, you can pick the form of recognition that makes the most sense to your organization, such as a verbal or written shout-out or a fun award. Additionally, keep your organization informed about new developments, including the victories of all sizes along the way.
- Step 8: Review, revise, and continuously improve. Based off internal feedback, your KPIs, and other methods of measuring success, find out what is going well and what could use some improvement. To help reinforce and maintain the change, make any necessary adjustments, and continue to check in with your team.
Effective Change Management Steps
Change is hard, and there are bound to be some challenges along the way. However, that should not be a deterrent for organizational change that helps your company grow, develop, improve, and reach its full potential. By having a better understanding of what kind of change needs to take place at your organization and why, coming up with a change management plan with an effective internal communication strategy, and following through with the necessary change management steps, the odds for successful change management will be much higher. With some thoughtful planning and communication, you can increase the likelihood that your overall organization will be receptive to adopting long-lasting change