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Group planning strategy with whiteboard

Developing a change management strategy provides direction and purpose for change management plans. This strategic preparation is a part of the first phase of Prosci’s 3-Phase Process for change management.    

Why You Need a Change Management Strategy

A "one-size-fits-all" approach is not effective for change management. Think about these changes:

  1. Acquiring a company of near equal size
  2. Getting suppliers to use a new web-based form and process
  3. Relocating office spaces within an existing building
  4. Implementing an Enterprise Resource Planning solution
  5. Releasing a new product

These are all distinctly different changes, and each requires change management to be successful. Each impacts people and how they do their job. Each can suffer from slow adoption and low utilization. Each has risks associated with people not becoming engaged or resisting the change.

While each of the initiatives needs change management to be successful, the right amount and approach for change management will be different. Change management strategies define the approach needed to manage change given the unique situation of the project or initiative.

Three Elements of a Change Management Strategy

Every change management strategy must include an understanding of the unique characteristics of the change, a supporting structure to implement the strategy, and analysis of the risks of the change and potential resistance to the change.

1. Situational awareness of the change

How big is the change? Who will it affect? How has the organization handled a similar change before? These are some of the questions you will need to answer as you prepare a strategy for managing change.

Change characteristics 

Begin by understanding the change that is being introduced. Changes can be formalized projects, strategic initiatives or even small adjustments to how the organization operates. Understanding the characteristics of the change requires you to answer questions like:

  • What is the scope of the change?
  • How many people will be impacted? 
  • Who is being impacted?
  • Are people being impacted the same or are they experiencing the change differently? 
  • What is being changed (processes, systems, job roles, etc.)?
  • What is the timeframe for the change?

Organizational attributes 

Understand the people and groups being impacted by the change. Organizational attributes are related to the history and culture in the organization and describe the backdrop against which this particular change is being introduced. Consider:

  • What is the perceived need for this change among employees and managers?
  • How have past changes been managed?
  • Is there a shared vision for the organization?
  • How much change is going on right now?

Impacted groups

The final step in building situational awareness of a change is developing a map of who is impacted by the change and how they are being impacted. A single change, such as the deployment of a web-based expense reporting program, will impact different groups uniquely:

  • Employees who do not have expenses to report will not be impacted at all
  • Staff who travel once a quarter may be only slightly impacted
  • Associates who are on the road all the time will be more impacted, although filing expenses is only a portion of their day-to-day work
  • Those in accounting who manage expense reporting will be heavily impacted, as their jobs will be completely altered

Outlining the impacted groups and how they will be impacted enables specific and customized plans later in the change management process.

 2. A supporting team structure

Without a team and sponsor to support your change management strategy, it will be very difficult to implement your plans successfully. Here’s why a change management team and sponsor coalition are important:

Team structure 

The change management team structure identifies who will be doing the change management work. It outlines the relationship between the project team and the change management team. Frequent team structures include:

  • A change manager being embedded into a project team
  • A centralized change management team supporting a project team
  • Change management being a responsibility assigned to one of the project team members

The key in developing a change management strategy is to be specific and make an informed decision when assigning change management responsibilities and resources.

Sponsor coalition 

The sponsor coalition describes the leaders and managers who need to be onboard and actively engaged in leading the change. The primary sponsor is the person who authorizes and champions the change. This person must be actively and visibly engaged in the change throughout the project. They also have a part in building a coalition of sponsors across the organization. The sponsor coalition is comprised of the leaders of the groups impacted by the change. Each member of the sponsor coalition has the responsibility to build support and communicate the change with their respective audiences.

3. Change management strategy analysis

Successful strategies of change management include assessments, analysis of the characteristics of a change and custom solutions for any unique situations of the change.

Project risk assessment

The risk of not managing the people side of change on a particular change is related to the dimensions described in the situational awareness section above. Changes that are more dramatic and farther reaching in the organization have a higher risk. Likewise, organizations and groups with histories and cultures that resist change face higher risk. In developing the strategy, the change management team documents the overall risk and specific risk factors.

Anticipated resistance

Many times, after a project is introduced and meets resistance, members of the team reflect that "they saw that reaction coming." In creating a strategy for change management, identify where resistance can be expected:

  • Are particular regions or divisions impacted differently than others?
  • Were certain groups advocating a different solution to the same problem?
  • Are some groups heavily invested with how things are done today?

Note particular anticipated resistance points depending on how each group is related to the change.

Developing special tactics

The final step of the change management strategy is the identification of any special tactics that will be required for this particular change initiative. The special tactics formalize many of the learnings from the strategy development related to the change and how it impacts different audiences in the organization. Throughout the change implementation, special tactics may need to be revisited and updated.

What Happens Once You Have a Change Management Strategy?

Formulating the change management strategy is the first critical step in implementing a change management methodology. The strategy provides direction and results in informed decision making throughout the change process. A well-formulated strategy brings the project or change to life, describing who and how it will impact the organization.

Implementing the strategy with change management plans

The change management strategy contributes to the formulation of change management plans. For instance, the groups identified in the strategy should each be addressed specifically in the communication plan. Steps for building and maintaining the sponsor coalition identified in the strategy are part of the sponsorship roadmap. Each of the subsequent change management plans and activities are guided by the findings in the change management strategy.

How change management strategy supports change management plans:

The change management strategy, including:

  • Situational awareness
  • Supporting structure
  • Strategy analysis

Drives the change management plans, including:

  • Communication plan
  • Sponsorship roadmap
  • Coaching plan
  • Training plan
  • Resistance management plan
  • Reinforcement planning

Projects meet their objectives when they manage the human side of change effectively. A robust strategy sets the stage for effective change management and project success.