Change Management in Organizations: A Short guide

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.

Winston Churchill

We face change every day, in our personal and professional lives. Nothing can stay the same forever, that is for sure, so no matter how hard we try to fight change, at some point we will need to embrace it and adapt to it. Organizations cannot afford the luxury to fight change, it’s crucial to accept it quickly and plan for it, so as not to be blindsided.

Usually change within a company is not the result of the decisions taken by its managers, teams, or employees, but more an outcome of external, dynamic, complex factors, like scientific and technological progress, increased amount of information to process, a higher number of procedures to implement or the struggle to offer the best product/services to the customer. 

In the following lines, we will talk about what change management means, when it occurs, the usual goals, what steps should a company take in order to achieve it, who is in charge of organizational change, and what issues you may encounter on the way to accomplish the desired result in your company.

Contents:

  • Definition of change management
  • Goals of change management
  • Change management plan
  • Participants in change management
  • Common obstacles that may occur in change management and how to overcome them

1. Definition of change management

Organizational change can be defined in many ways, it’s such a complex notion, but let’s look at a straightforward definition. The Cambridge Dictionary mentions that organizational change is a process in which a large company or organization changes its working methods or aims, for example in order to develop and deal with new situations or markets.

In a more comprehensive approach, we can define organizational change(or change management) as a broad spectrum of processes, instruments, and techniques intended to manage the way people react to change, in order to achieve its desired business outcomes.

It’s the methodical management of employee engagement and compliance of how work will be achieved when the organization changes. Nonetheless, change management concentrates on how to help employees embrace, adopt and take advantage of a change in their daily tasks and projects.

Change management it’s about both the present and the future because it starts when an organization wants to make a transition from its present state to some envisioned better future state. 


2. Goals of change management

The absolute goal of change management is to reach the desired transition with the maximum of benefits and productivity and a minimum of negative outcomes affecting employees, managers, and stakeholders.

Generally speaking, there are some common change management examples that can be identified, regardless of the size of the company or the industry, but don’t forget every organization is unique and has individual needs:

  • Establishing a new, creative company culture
  • Improving and updating best practices and HR processes
  • Increasing project return on investment
  • Increasing employee motivation and engagement
  • Changing training programs and practices
  • Implementing incentive and benefits policies.

Note that the COVID epidemic has accelerated change in organizations within multiple dimensions: the switch to remote work and the digital transformation. This came with multiple challenges, however, it also brought some new opportunities. 

A LeadershipIQ study highlights that "62% of employees don’t like to leave their comfort zone”, this means that you have to prepare yourself with resistance when embarking on such initiatives.

You now know what is the purpose of change management, but probably are wondering how and where to start from.


3. Change management plan

Here is the change management plan we suggest you consider:

  1. Determine the present state of your organization - as a first step, you need to identify the actual need for change. It can be prompted by external factors, business analysis, potential new investments, market competition, etc.
  2. Outline the future state you aspire the organization will reach
  3. Communicate your vision about the change/transition - explaining to people why the need for change and how will this mean improvement for everyone
  4. Design a comprehensive plan to handle the change management. The plan should include: 
    • what changes will there be
    • who will execute these changes
    • what is the deadline for the changes to take place
    • what resources are available for the plan
  5. Implement, oversee and sustain the change process - the responsible people should always monitor the whole process, making sure they adopt the plan as needed, on the go, so as to bring up all possible benefits.
  6. Assess the progress and be present at all times, ask and give feedback.


4.  Participants in change management

A change management process can be as wide as your organization needs it or wants it. It can involve every employee or it can be narrowed down to specific departments or teams. If you decide to focus on the whole company, everyone can have a role: employees, leaders, and HR professionals. Let’s see how every one of them can be engaged.

Management’s role

Carrying out organizational change is never easy, but it can be horrifying if you don’t have well-equipped leaders, capable of steering the wheels in the right direction.

A great leader will have a number of responsibilities during the process of change management: creating the irresistible, adequate vision, guiding the process and the people involved in it, communicating(the why, what, when, who, how), and making sure all parties are engaged and motivated. The perfect change leader should send the message that the change is important, effective, and favorable and actively, and consistently behave in ways that are aligned with the future state. Managing organizational change requires specific skills and a clear understanding of how this process works.

Note: If you are managing people, then you need to sharpen your skills. Discover what people management skills you miss and how you can improve.


HR’s role

HR can be a massive point of focus in change management. There are 2 major directions that HR can go into: they can launch and lead the change or they can act as a facilitator for changes that other managers and departments start.

Let’s see what are the most common operations HR specialists are in charge of:

  • they are the point of focus for the employees who have questions and concerns about the change management
  • they coordinate the transmission of information and various meetings related to the process
  • they prepare informational papers/forms
  • they develop new training programs
  • they observe and analyze the potential impact of the process
  • they calculate the post-implementation return on investment.

How can HR professionals help in implementing change management? 

  • they can act as a catalyst for conducting change at every organizational level
  • they can provide the foundation for the whole process
  • they can coordinate top management with employees
  • they can pinpoint and design feasible change management processes
  • they can boost communication, a crucial factor for a successful organizational change.

HR professionals need most of all, an essential ingredient throughout this process: being respectful. The behavioral skills required by HR professionals enable them to engage the employees in the desired transition to the future state of the organization.

If you’re interested in how to be a Great HR Professional, we have a detailed guide with 10 Skills To Excel In Human Resources. Check it out.


Employees’ role

People are not robots, they cannot be programmed to accept change instantly and without a doubt. 

People need time to adapt to changes and they need constant reassurance that the process will be beneficial. Without the support of your employees, change management will never be successful. Through efficient education and training, employees will adapt easier, collaborate more straightforwardly, and will be more productive.


5. Common obstacles that may occur in change management and how to overcome them

The 2 major obstacles organizations may face during the change management process are employee opposition and disruption in communication.

Employee opposition: humans are usually reluctant to change and this can cause a lack of engagement. What’s important is how organizations behave towards them, this will be the key to a successful change. Therefore, leaders should be able to manage any employee resistance, through different methods: implementing the use of tools and training for supervisors, focusing on people rather than on systems, supporting and coaching employees to adapt to change.

Disruption in communication: communication is crucial, information has to arrive in time to your employees and it has to be clear. So you need to involve not only supervisors and change leaders, but also HR professionals because they have better communication skills. Effective communication generates an understanding of why the process of change is necessary. And you can focus on more than one way of communication: emails, meetings, training, coming from management, supervisors, or HR.

Other obstacles to be taken into account are:

  • setting unrealistic objectives and timeline
  • losing employees during the transition
  • exorbitant change costs
  • software/hardware failure
  • inefficiency in dealing with conflict
  • not enough employees participating in training sessions.


Wrapping up

There are so many variables and factors in change management, so don’t rush it and don’t push people into accepting it. Take it slowly. Determine the need for change and then start designing a plan. But don’t make the mistake to rely solely on it. Getting people on board is always the key!

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