How to Position Change Management as a Necessity
Written by Tim Creasey
When we ask change practitioners about trends they're seeing in change management, greater awareness of the need for the discipline always tops the list. In fact, it's been the top trend identified in Prosci's Best Practices in Change Management research since 2007. Despite this, some organizations continue to view change management as a "nice to have" rather than a necessity.
Change Management as a Necessity
In some organizations, stakeholders regularly request change management on projects. Yet in others, it gets pushed onto projects by change practitioners, who still have to justify the value they provide. How can you change the conversation to demonstrate to your organization that change management is essential to success on projects and major initiatives?
To position change management as a necessity, it's important to clarify that your project outcomes depend on people doing things differently and how change management makes that possible:
- Organizations introduce change in the form of a project or initiative
- These changes impact how individuals in the organization do their work
- Getting individuals to do their work differently is critical to meeting project objectives and achieving successful outcomes
- Change management provides the structure, intent and tools that help you encourage individuals to adopt and use changes at higher rates by supporting those individuals through the changes
Organizations introduce change
Repositioning change management may first require a better understanding of what change looks like today. Leaders and colleagues can oversimplify when they don't understand that change in the modern world is ongoing, fast-paced and complex:
- Types of change – formalized projects, initiatives, and transformational efforts
- Impacts of change – processes, tools, technologies, organization structure and job roles
- Funding considerations of change – no budget, minimal budget, or very large budgets
- Catalysts for change – ranging from top-down efforts introduced by senior leaders to grass-roots efforts initiated by engaged and empowered employees
- Scope of change – from incremental change with small adjustments to how work gets done to dramatic change that fundamentally shifts how the organization operates
- Origin of change – strategic plans, competitive threats, customer demands, supply chains, economic shifts and regulatory changes
Regardless of the nature of the change, each is an attempt to move the organization from a current state through a transition state to a future state. Each change is an attempt to improve performance by lowering costs, increasing revenue, improving service delivery, reducing risk, etc. The goal is to move to a future state that is better than the current state or enables the organization to achieve their vision and enhance performance.
Changes impact how individuals do their work
It may seem easier to think about changes from an organizational perspective, e.g., introducing business process management techniques, implementing an ERP system, or reducing waste in the manufacturing process. But change comes to life through individual behaviors, processes and workflows.
You can implement the technical side of change through project management, but changes ultimately affect how individual employees do their work. It can affect a single employee, small work groups, departments, divisions, or the entire organization. Depending on the type of change, impacts on individuals and their behaviors also differ. And the most important, strategic changes often involve a high degree of individual change.
Regardless of the source and type of change, or how formalized the project or initiative, people will have to do their work differently. Organizational change is not homogeneous, although it's sometimes treated as such. Instead, organizational change takes place when employees make specific adjustments to their individual behaviors, processes and workflows. Each impacted employee makes their own transition from their own current state to their own future state.
Getting people to change how they work is critical to achieving desired outcomes
The goal of any organizational change is to reach a future state where performance is better than it had been in the current state. The organization can't do that alone. It can only reach the desired future state when employees reach their individual future states. Success of the organizational change ties directly to how successfully each impacted employee makes this personal transition. Did Andre adopt the change to his work? Did Becky adopt the change to her work? Did Carlos and Dhara make the changes to their work?
Prosci's CMROI Model comprises three areas of the people side of change that contribute to or reduce the potential ROI a project can deliver:
- Speed of adoption – How quickly did individuals make the change?
- Ultimate utilization – How many individuals made the change?
- Proficiency – How effective were the individuals in their own future state?
If speed of adoption is slower than expected, ROI or outcomes will be less than expected or desired. If the ultimate utilization rate is less than expected (i.e., people opt out or find workarounds), ROI or outcomes will be less than expected. If proficiency is lower than expected (i.e., an employee does not deliver the intended improvement in their future state), ROI or outcomes will be less than expected.
A growing body of data shows a correlation between change management effectiveness and the likelihood that a project or initiative delivers intended outcomes. Prosci's Best Practices in Change Management research consistently shows that change management of any kind, from poor to excellent, delivers better project outcomes.
The correlation rests on the fact that organizations achieve results when individuals make their own changes successfully. A perfectly designed process that no one follows does not deliver value to the organization. A perfectly designed technology solution that no one uses does not deliver outcomes or objectives to the organization. Change efforts depend on the people side of change to drive organizational benefits.
Change management provides the structure and intent you need for success
Prosci's formal definition of change management is the application of a set of tools, processes, skills and principles for managing the people side of change to achieve the desired outcomes of a change project or initiative.
Change management provides the structure, intent and tools for encouraging and supporting individuals through their own personal changes. Once stakeholders understand the logic, it easier to introduce change management as the processes and tools for encouraging individuals to make successful personal changes.
It's also important to clarify that change in an organization needs to be managed. The human element makes it too risky to assume that everything will work out. Change management helps ensure that the people side of bringing changes to life leads you to successful outcomes.
Business Results Depend on Change Management
To reposition change management, it's critical to connect change management to business results. This starts with demonstrating that change impacts the way individual people do their work, and how they adopt and use organizational project changes as individuals. Addressing the human element, or the people side of change, is the key to helping stakeholders view change management as a clear necessity in your organization.