5 Tips to Managing Organizational Change More Effectively

I have been in many organizations throughout my career and one thing I know – change is constant! In fact this week I had to adjust to a new change myself. I was talking with Dr. Karen McGraw, noted Organizational change and Leadership coach, and she offered to write a post on the subject for all of us who have to manage projects and organizations through the change.  I am pleased to share:

Managing Organizational Change More Effectively

Guest Post by Dr. Karen L. McGraw, President and Principal Consultant, Silver Bear Group

It seems that organizational change is constant today, whether due to reorganization, innovation, or new systems and processes. As George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change.” And even though the new IT system you are about to implement will really help the workforce over time, it still will trigger some workforce resistance and angst. Being a good project manager means that you must think beyond the technology, product, or process you are implementing. It requires acknowledging that best results are achieved through organizational change management initiatives that empower and support people. Here are five tips for achieving better project outcomes.

1. Create a separate project to manage the change.  Most project managers understand the need for organizational change management, and some even build key change activities into their project plans. But in most cases, their first priority is to the on-time and on-budget implementation of the project. We have learned from history that the best practice is to set up a separate organizational change management project to support the primary project. Why? Because organizational change is much more than getting a new IT system configured and implemented, or creating new processes. Effective change requires a clear focus on how people work inside the organization, how work flows across the organization, and how the culture accepts new ideas.

The change project should begin with developing a change charter, documenting a vision statement, garnering leadership support and creating a change steering committee to involve individuals at all levels. The change project should be led by someone who is knowledgeable about organizational change management and who understands basic project management practices. By coordinating with the implementation project team, the change team’s roadmap, communication plan, messaging schedule, and other critical activities and actions are aligned with and designed to support implementation success.

2. Define a clear focus for the organizational change management activities.  As heretical as it may seem, the purpose of the organizational change project is not really to get the new IT system implemented—the technology project team will take care of that. Nor is it to find ways to “make” people use the system once it is implemented. Instead, the organizational change project should be focused on finding and implementing ways to empower and support the workforce as it makes the change.

In many cases, people will have to learn to work in new ways to use the new system effectively. Their jobs may change; they may be rewarded differently. It’s natural that this could cause resistance and reluctance. So, before you design training that is all about the features and functions of the new system, focus first on people. Find out how they work today and the processes they use. Discover how their work is currently rewarded. Identify the barriers they face that the new IT system will help them overcome. These factors determine the fundamental nature of the change, and once you understand it, you’ll be better prepared to craft meaningful messages and feedback mechanisms, design the right kind of training and coaching, and put rewards that matter in place. That’s a very different perspective.

3. Create strategic, usable Change Management and Communications Plans. Traditional change management was often little more than generic-sounding change management and communications plans that were not used very effectively. That’s unfortunate, because these two documents should be your strategic tools for success. What’s strategic about them? They should be developed to help the organization align the outcomes the project is to deliver directly with the organization’s business goals. Creating the change vision statement, benefits, and goals in a way that they can be easily communicated with and accepted by the workforce is critical. This also will require a good understanding of the current state to enable you to develop effective plans to close the gap between current and future vision. Consequently, well before you open a template, you should be conducting activities to gather the input the plans will require, such as

  • Change vision statement, with organizational benefits and goals
  • Change management strategy development
  • Stakeholder identification and assessment
  • Stakeholder baseline survey of current attitude and perception
  • Organizational change readiness assessment
  • Change risk and issues assessment
  • Change evaluation plan

Additionally, both of these documents should be living documents that you modify as the implementation requires. Did the project “slip?” Then the communications schedule should change.  Are the messages you are using not getting the point across, based on feedback form the workforce? Modify the message to address the resistance or questions you are getting. Don’t develop them to sit on a shelf!

4. Get your leadership on board and coach them to stay involved to lead the change.  Research indicates that change management and communications plans are invaluable in creating good messages and feedback loops, and helping employees function in the new environment, but that the most impact comes from strong change sponsorship. Enlisting the right executive sponsorship is critical, but it doesn’t stop there. In fact, having a “figurehead” sponsor is no real leadership at all.

Real change leadership is about more than being just a mouthpiece for the change and sending out an email every now and then. Change leadership demands a willingness to continually champion the importance of the vision the project will enable the organization to attain, in spite of the potential disruption it may temporarily cause. It means ensuring that leaders at all levels speak with a single voice regarding the change. It demonstrates support for the process changes required for success. It proactively resolves conflicts, holding people accountable for making the change. Finally, it recognizes and celebrates the organization and the individuals who helped the implementation succeed.

5. Use a defined methodology to plan an effective change management project and work the plan. Project managers use the PMBOK® and methodologies like Agile to help them define, plan, and manage projects to successful conclusions.  Many change management methodologies exist that practitioners can use to guide their organizational change management activities.  Most of these methodologies are variations of John Kotter’s 8-step model. We use the EASE Change Management methodology, a practical, 4-step approach that is based on Kotter’s model, but has simplified and combined some activities to make it easier for organizations to deploy and fund. Regardless of the change model or methodology you choose, use it to guide your success. Models provide you and your team with a common change management language. They define what you should be doing, when to do it, and are based on best practice. And they can boost your client’s confidence in your ability to implement change effectively.

Closing Thoughts. Organizational change doesn’t just happen. It must be carefully planned and implemented to support the workforce as it learns and adapts to new systems and practices. These tips are based on a decade of successful implementations of many different types of systems. My hope is that they guide you as you help your organization make your change vision a reality!

About the Author

Dr. Karen McGraw, “The Performance Doc,” is the president and principal consultant at Silver Bear Group (www.silverbeargroup.com), a business and performance consultancy in Austin, TX. She is an accomplished organizational consultant and knowledge engineer specializing in human performance improvement, leadership development, and change. For over 30 years, she has helped clients achieve desired outcomes through training, process, technology, and change projects. Clients trust her to design tailored solutions that address critical issues, engage stakeholders in project success, and deliver long-term results.

Karen’s educational background is in the fields of Psychology and Curriculum and Instruction. In addition, she is certified in the use of tools such as the Golden Personality Profiler, Insights, and Myers-Briggs. She is a co-author of ASTD’s Performance DNA methodology, the EASE Change Management Methodology, Breaking Tape: 7 Steps to Winning at Work and Life, and a human capital management scorecard system. As an HPI facilitator for ASTD, she has trained hundreds of people in the analysis of human performance. Karen has published 6 books and over 50 articles in topics ranging from knowledge engineering and human performance analysis, to change management, collaboration, leadership, and process improvement.

One Response to “5 Tips to Managing Organizational Change More Effectively”

  1. Scott Helle Says:

    Totally agree – many project managers, stakeholders and project sponsors think just be executing a project they don’t need to address change management – WRONG! your blog does a good job misspelling this perception!

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