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Prosci has researched change management best practices for twenty years. For every edition of Best Practices in Change Management, we ask our study participants,
“What has been the single greatest contributor to the success of your change management program?”
Collectively and consistently, participants’ responses point to seven straightforward factors that impact the results of a change initiative. Below are the best practices of change management, as reported to Prosci by over 6,000 change practitioners over the past twenty years.
Seven Change Management Best Practices
- Mobilize an active and visible executive sponsor
- Dedicate change management resources
- Apply a structured change management approach
- Engage with employees and encourage their participation
- Communicate frequently and openly
- Integrate and engage with project management
- Engage with middle managers
Research participants who identified these contributors were experienced practitioners, project leaders, executives and consultants. Over 70% of participants in the 2016 edition of Best Practices in Change Management had more than four years of involvement in applying change management, and almost one third had more than twelve years.
1. Mobilize an Active and Visible Executive Sponsor
A positive leader who actively guides the organization through change and participates visibly throughout the transition is the greatest predictor of success. The importance of sponsorship was cited over three times more frequently than the next contributor to change success. Participants consistently used the key words “active and visible” to describe this top contributor. “Active and visible” sponsorship means that the sponsor is:
- Supporting the change by giving consistent attention to the change and the need for change management
- Championing the change by leading and motivating others in the organization
- Making effective and influential decisions regarding the change, including aligning priorities among other leaders in the organization
- Maintaining direct communication with the project management and change management teams and being accessible during the change
The graph below shows that with extremely effective sponsorship, projects were almost three times more likely to meet or exceed project objectives than projects with very ineffective sponsorship.
If you are not sure how to help your sponsor become active and visible - or if you are a sponsor and are not sure what “active and visible” means - read this article on a sponsor’s role.
2. Dedicate Change Management Resources
Your project needs dedicated resources and funding to get change management work done. Dedicated change management resources and funding means having access to:
- The appropriate amount of funding and resources
- Dedicated resources with change management experience
- A change team or community of flexible, ambitious, decisive, collaborative individuals
One participant provided this insightful comment: “If it isn’t someone’s job, then it’s no one’s job.” To realize the benefits of change management, someone must be responsible for it and have access to an appropriate amount of funding. The data revealed a positive and meaningful correlation between having a dedicated resource (person) and overall change management effectiveness. Participants that had dedicated resources were significantly more likely to have good or excellent change management effectiveness than those without a dedicated resource.
3. Use a Structured Change Management Approach
An intentional and defined approach to managing change provides the structure necessary to stay on track. It makes sure time is spent on meaningful activities and allows space to identify and address gaps throughout the project lifecycle. Using a formal approach also makes processes repeatable for consistent application of change management on more initiatives throughout the organization. Key words that came up when participants described this best practice included:
- Easy to implement across multiple changes
- Easy to apply at every phase of the project
How organizations used a structured approach varied in the research. Seventy-nine percent used a change management methodology for general guidance while 48% used it as a checklist for activities and 39% used it to monitor progress (participants were able to select multiple responses, resulting in a total of more than 100%).
Again, the research revealed just how much applying a structured approach contributed to success. Participants that applied a structured approach were 33% more likely to experience good or excellent change management effectiveness than those without a methodology.
4. Engage with Frontline Employees
The reason we apply change management is to drive employee adoption and usage, which in turn generates organizational results and outcomes. Because of this objective, it is clear why employee engagement and participation was identified as a top contributor to success. Tactics to increase engagement in change include:
- Highlighting “what’s in it for me?” (WIIFM)
- Identifying and building relationships with impacted groups
- Ensuring impacted groups receive the appropriate level of training
The goal of these efforts is to build an employee base that demonstrates a willingness to participate in the change and collaborates with the people administrating the change.
Reinforcement is a critical step in the change management process. Because organizations are heavily saturated with change, this step is often neglected as practitioners juggle managing multiple changes. Inadequately addressing reinforcement and sustainment activities has a negative impact on the overall outcome of the change. Participants that planned for reinforcement activities were 12% more likely to achieve project objectives than those that did not.
5. Communicate Frequently and Openly
Change management practitioners often struggle against the misconception that change management is “just communications.” Although it is much more than that, effective communications are critical to leading change successfully. Beyond frequency, participants cited these factors as important to success:
- Leveraging multiple communications channels
Additionally, participants identified important topics to communicate such as why the change was happening, expectations, long-term plan perspectives, how the change will impact employees, and essential business drivers.
6. Engage and Integrate with Project Management
Prosci’s research has underscored the common trend of integrating change management work with project management activities. These complementary disciplines naturally cross paths throughout the life of an initiative. In the latest study, 75% of participants integrated project management work and change management work to some degree. When they identified this as a top contributor to success, they gave examples of how they achieved integration:
- Adding change management activities to the project plan
- Working collaboratively with the project team
- Aligning change plans with project plans
- Combining or assigning responsibilities and roles
- Providing change management training to the project team
More and more organizations are realizing the value of integrating project management and change management. Participants who integrated these two disciplines were 16% more likely to meet or exceed project objectives than those who did not integrate.
7. Engage with and Support Middle Managers
Managers can become a change practitioner’s greatest ally in times of change because they are closest to employees impacted by change. Participants explained this top contributor as:
- Emphasizing communication about the change and the managers’ roles in change
- Holding one-on-one meetings, team meetings and alignment sessions
- Focusing on awareness-building, including how the change will affect them, the business reasons for the change, and the need for change management
- Providing materials, tools and support that will help managers understand and navigate the change
- Engaging and involving managers during the early phases of the change and throughout the project lifecycle
Middle managers were revealed as the most resistant group in Prosci’s research, with 43% of participants identifying managers as the group most resistant to change. Participants believed a majority of the resistance experienced by managers could have been avoided. By thoroughly addressing this group in the change plan, resistance can be mitigated and managers will be able to drive change.
What This Means for You
Prosci has produced ten Best Practices in Change Management reports over the last twenty years, compiling data from more than 6,000 change leaders in 85 countries. Use these best practices to:
- Start your change management work with the things that matter most
- Evaluate your current approach
- Intentionally incorporate best practices into your daily work
The discipline of change management is still growing, and the change management best practices have grown and changed over the years to reflect this. By considering and implementing the best practices listed here, you (and your organization) can continue to grow and learn with the discipline.