What is change management anyway?
March 22, 2022Organisational Change, Stories from the front line
“What do you do?”
It’s a typical small-talk type question we all might ask people we’ve just met, after we’ve had a good chat about the weather, however for change management practitioners, it’s not always an easy question to answer.
“I work in change management”
Is my first response which can often be met with some slow nodding and then (potentially) a follow-up question:
“So what is change management anyway?”
This is the part where I have a deeper think about my response. I scroll through my mind for the various elevators pitches I’ve prepared to describe what change management is… succinctly and hopefully eloquently.
I think about what I would say if I was meeting someone in a corporate client environment;
“Change management is the thread that holds all your business initiatives together.
Your investment into change management protects the people related parts of your desired outcome.
When the people side of change is ignored or poorly managed, the project and your organisation take on additional costs and risks.
Effective change management is a cost avoidance technique, risk mitigation tactic and justifiable investment.”
I’d also add that the level of change management effectiveness has a direct correlation to the success of a project. Projects with excellent change management approaches have a 93% chance of meeting and exceeding project objectives. This is compared to projects with poor or minimal change management where only 15% meet project objectives. This shows that with excellent change management your project is 6 times more likely to succeed.
And I’d finish it off with something like:
“The value of change management is that we can break down a complex transformation into achievable actions, and find the best ways to make it sustainable.
We create a step-by-step plan that your organisation can commit to, follow, and guide your people through your desired changes.”
My client response focuses on communicating the necessity and value of change management. Linking the work I do to deliver a successful project with the key measurable business outcomes, such as budget, scheduling, risk mitigation and sustaining the change.
Now back to this person standing in front of me who isn’t part of the corporate world of IT, HR and PMOs; for this person, my references to business risks, costs and ROIs probably won’t mean very much.
I’ll go with my ‘BBQ pitch’ instead:
“We help organisations who want to do something new, or differently.
Whether that’s putting in a new technology system, moving offices or trialling new ways of working.
We help make sure that the people impacted are aware of the changes and we support them to become ready to adopt the change.
We try to make the change as painless as possible.”
“But how do you do all of that?”
I might be asked, in both the corporate and more social types of situations.
If I was in a client setting, I’d walk them through a high-level change lifecycle of preparing, delivering and sustaining the change. I’d provide examples and explain deliverables such as business cases, business requirements documentation, stakeholder analysis, communications planning and execution. I can share my experiences with people strategies, training and knowledge transfer and business readiness assessments. I’d emphasize the robust and structured process of change management and how we also explore organisation change capabilities such as leadership alignment, strategic clarity and culture. I’d also highlight that we use data-driven methods to provide accurate and credible insights such as measuring the organisation’s level of change readiness and maturity.
But I remind myself that this person standing in front of me, with a drink in their hand, doesn’t want to hear the names of deliverables or phases of work, so I say,
“I do all that by engaging and listening to people. I talk to the people who are going to receive the change and ask them about their needs and concerns.
I then talk to the people who are implementing the change and try to explain those needs and concerns.
I then use a variety of tools to make sure both these groups can make this new change successful. Everything we do is about making the change less painful for everyone.”
It is interesting that no matter what your background, or what your level of interest in change management is, that last bit about making change “less painful” resonates strongly with everyone.
We’ve all been in situations where we look back with hindsight and feel that better communication, support and timely encouragement could have led to a more favourable (and usually a less stressful) outcome.
“Oh, so that last project we had that failed and our people were upset, change management could’ve helped us.”
“Yes, it could!”