Organizational change can manifest in countless ways: restructuring of leadership, adoption of new technologies, or the introduction of new products and markets. The entire process can be positively transformative for a business, but only when conducted properly. It’s no small wonder that the biggest brands spend millions hiring change agents and leaders to effectively implement their vision across the company.
In this article, we will cover the change management process as well as the best practice for implementing change in one’s own organization.
The change management process
Leaders and agents of change must concern themselves with managing various teams and initiatives during periods of change. For example, when adopting a new CRM for a sales division, who will train the teams on how to use the software? What benchmarks or guardrails will be implemented to guide the process? Leaders must be able to answer how, what, why, and when to develop a change management process.
Building a change management process
In the early phases of formulating change management, it is important to lay down the strategic foundations to guide the radical thinking necessary in implementing the change. Before acting on any new initiative, leadership should come to an understanding of the goals of the change management process. It may be to address major bottlenecks within the organization’s processes or to create an environment for innovation. What matters is that there is a widespread buy-in, particularly at the top level.
After setting goals, you must set the key players on the team— in other words, who are the leaders that will hold everyone accountable. Since implementing change can be an overwhelming feat, accountability is vital in ensuring sustained progress. The key players should have significant experience in completing major projects and guiding numerous different team members.
Once the proper leaders are appointed, the next task is to ensure those leaders implement relevant training programs. Team members should understand the goals of the overall change, and the adjustments in various processes to accomplish overall change. Such training will require significant time, resources, and planning beforehand.
What to consider during change management
In the chaos of putting together a new process, leadership may become blindsided by other problems that arise as a result of the change. For example, training team members to do their job in a new way may be a major inconvenience and lead to a drop in productivity. Be cognizant of the effects of rapid, widespread change on employees and team members.
Similarly, leaders may fail to consider their specific communication style and how it is received by the teams. Change can be a daunting task to accomplish, and an abstract concept to grasp. Communication makes all the difference between a carefully executed vision, and a disaster on all levels.
Change management frameworks
To simplify the notion of a change management process, countless people have developed their own framework for breaking change down. These include:
Kotter 8-Step Process for Leading Change – Developed by synthesizing four decades of observing leaders and organizations executing their strategies, and first mentioned by Dr. John Kotter in his book, Leading Change. The eight steps include: 1) Create a sense of urgency, 2) Build a guiding coalition, 3) Form a strategic vision, 4) Enlist a volunteer army, 5) Enable action by removing barriers, 6) Generate short-term wins, 7) Sustain acceleration and 8) Institute change.
ADKAR Model – (Also known as the Prosci ADKAR® Model) Developed by entrepreneur and author Jeff Hiat, ADKAR represents five “tangible and concrete” building blocks for lasting change: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement.
Satir Change Model – Originally designed for self-improvement, the Satir System was created by family therapist Virginia Satir. The model features five stages, each with its own effect on one’s feelings, thinking, and performance. The stages are: 1) Late Status Quo, 2) Resistance, 3) Chaos, 4) Integration, 5) New Status Quo.
McKinsey 7-S Framework – First mentioned by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman in their book, In Search of Excellence, this model helps to illustrate the various parts of an organization and how they fit together as a cohesive whole. Everything is divided into two categories: “Hard elements”, which are easy to describe and can be quickly changed, and “Soft elements”, which are less tangible and more affected by company culture. Strategy, Structure, Systems all fall under Hard elements, while Shared Values, Skills, Style, and Staff are under Soft elements. The model is like a web, as each element directly impacts another element.
Kurt Lewin Change Model – First presented by German-American Psychologist Kurt Lewin in 1947, The Lewin Change Management Model is the most succinct and easy-to-understand model on our list, and is still used today. It boils down execution into three stages: 1. Unfreeze (ensuring the company is ready for change), 2. Change (moving towards the state of change), and 3. Freeze (reinforcing the desired changes).
Kübler-Ross Model – Also known as the five stages of grief model, this model was created by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying. It explains five stages of emotions that people experience as part of accepting loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Coincidentally, these are the emotions experienced by teams after implementing or announcing a major change to an organization.
Bridges Transition Model – Created by change consultant William Bridges, this model highlights the stages of transitions, starting with Endings (teams realizing they are losing something but keeping other things), followed by the Neutral Zone (an in-between period where the old isn’t gone but the new isn’t operational), and concluded with New Beginnings (new values or attitudes implemented).
Before devising a new strategy, there must be a thorough review of the existing strategy. Leaders should know what to assess, including culture, values, leadership styles. In addition, the team must develop an organizational readiness assessment— an evaluation of the company’s ability and readiness to change.
Assessment must also be carried out afterward. After the organization changes, teams must measure their new behaviors and their effect on the business. They must ensure that all the changes adhere to the envisioned goals. Track metrics that can inform the efficiency and efficacy of the new change, from revenue to qualitative, cultural enhancement.
The roles of a leader during change
In periods of transition, the leader holds all responsibility. Especially if the change does not take hold, the leader must hold himself accountable. They are the ultimate decision-makers, responsible for everything from talent management to effective communication to teams. If something goes wrong, it’s because the leadership did not set the right expectations, provide the proper guidance, or track progress as necessary. Leaders are ultimately considered as sponsors for major projects and initiatives.
The leader is also viewed as the role model. Leaders set forth (intentionally or unintentionally) the attitude and mentality that will be eventually adopted by their team members. If they take an enthusiastic approach, their team members will also carry that energy. If they are selfish and accusatory, their team will suffer as a result. Leaders must exemplify the absolute best that a team can be.
Then there is the managerial role that leaders must play. They must evaluate ongoing processes, review records and data, and ultimately devise a strong, fact-based decision. When problems arise, they must find ways to mitigate risks while brainstorming creative solutions.
As change is implemented throughout an organization, the leader will be faced with countless challenges, each varying in difficulty and required skills. Leaders that are determined to bring about true change will not sit idly by handing off tasks to others: they must play multiple roles, from strategist to manager, from leader to team player. It’s no easy feat for a single person, but the rewards can be incomparable.