Creating a Change Management Program in the Digital Age: The Complete Guide

The right change management program can mean the difference between successful organizational change and failure.

Failure can be costly, which is one major reason to invest in structured change management efforts.

Among other things, a good change management program can:

  • Prevent organizational changes from failing
  • Improve the overall outcomes of a change effort
  • Reduce employee resistance, negative sentiment, and other obstacles to change
  • Help organizations stay modern in today’s ever-changing digital landscape

Today, this last concern, digitally-driven change, is a main focus for organizations and change managers alike.

Successful change is not just a matter of profit – in the digital age, it is a matter of survival.

In this guide, we will explore the key role that change management programs play in the success of the modern digital organization.

Below, we will look at:

  • Key definitions and concepts related to change management in the digital era
  • Frequently asked questions about change management
  • How to create a successful change management program in the digital age
  • Change management frameworks and models
  • Tips and strategies for designing a strong, successful change management program

Let’s start by covering the basics – what change management programs are and how they work.

Change Management Programs: Need-to-Know Concepts and Definitions

Here are a few important concepts that can help business professionals better understand the role that change management plays in driving successful organizational change.

Change Management

Change management is the business discipline dedicated to implementing, managing, and optimizing organizational change within a business.

This business function, among other things, is tasked with:

  • Assessing and mitigating risk associated with organizational change
  • Designing change programs
  • Overcoming common obstacles to change, such as employee resistance
  • Finding ways to improve the bottom-line outcomes of a change program

Change managers are business professionals who specialize in change management.

In some cases, these professionals work directly within a company, heading up the enterprise’s change management function.

In other instances, change managers are hired as outside consultants to assist an organization’s change efforts.

An organization may also choose to provide education for its own employees by, for example, encouraging them to obtain change management certifications.

Change Management Program

A change management program is, like other business programs, an enterprise activity aimed at achieving a specific aim … in this case, organizational change that is streamlined, efficient, and effective.

Technically speaking, a “change management program” emphasizes the management and guidance of change efforts.

Designing the actual organizational change, in some cases, is outside the purview of change managers – falling instead on the shoulders of change leaders or business leaders.

Change management programs are often based on or informed by change management frameworks (covered below).

A change management program should:

  • Build awareness of the need for change among team members
  • Engage and motivate employees
  • Assess and minimize potential risks of the change program
  • Provide workers with the knowledge, skills, and tools they need to drive change
  • Reinforce change over the long term in order to reduce resistance

In short, a change management program is the systematic plan of action aimed at achieving organizational change goals.

Creating the right program is essential for maximizing outcomes while increasing efficiency.

Organizational Change

An organizational change is any change to some aspect of the organization, aimed at achieving a specific business result.

These can include changes to:

  • Processes
  • People
  • Organizational culture
  • Strategies
  • Branding

Organizational changes, along with the change management programs that enact them, are specifically designed to help an organization achieve its strategic goals.

In most cases, those goals are tied to organizational performance goals.

Organizational Performance

Organizational performance is often used synonymously with organizational effectiveness.

In most cases, it refers to how effectively and efficiently an organization can meet its stated goals.

An organization that can meet or exceed its aims without going over budget would be considered effective.

On the other hand, an organization that cannot meet its performance goals – or cannot do so cost-efficiently – would be considered ineffective.

There are a number of possible ways to measure and evaluate organizational effectiveness.

The Leadership Circle’s model, for instance, focuses on:

  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Accountability
  • Delivery
  • Performance
  • Measurement

An organization that follows this model could use it to assess existing performance, identify weaknesses, then develop an organizational change program based on those analyses.

Digital Transformation

In the digital economy, digital transformation drives a great many organizational changes.

Digital transformation refers to organizational changes designed to modernize and digitalize a business.

These can include changes such as:

  • IT modernization
  • The digital adoption of new technology
  • Developing business strategies that leverage digital technology
  • Cultivating a culture that is digitally mature and data-driven
  • Redesigning business models to focus on customers

At the global and local levels, changes such as these are often driven by the disruptive effect of new technology.

A new software platform, for instance, may completely revolutionize the way a business function operates – and businesses that don’t adopt that platform won’t be able to adapt and keep up with the evolving marketplace.

CRM platforms are one example of this. The introduction of these enterprise software solutions have totally transformed the way businesses manage customer relationships. 

Organizations that use them will experience massive productivity gains compared to those that don’t, providing them with an immense, unfair advantage over their competition.

Diving Deeper with a Change Management Program FAQ

To learn more about change management programs, let’s answer some of the most commonly asked questions about this topic.

Why should my business care about change management?

There are a number of reasons to invest in structured change management programs.

The benefits of change management include:

  • A greater chance of success
  • Improved project outcomes
  • Increased efficiency
  • Shorter project timelines
  • Lower costs
  • Less frustration, friction, and resistance from employees

Change management is, in short, an investment that can significantly improve the outcomes and ROI of an organizational change initiative.

What are change management frameworks?

A change management framework is a model – or a set of action steps – that can act as a basis for organizational change programs, plans, and schedules.

Typically, these frameworks emphasize the need for earning employee support, providing them with the tools and skills they need to enact change, and minimizing employee resistance.

One example is the ADKAR model, developed and taught by Prosci.

This model includes five stages:

  • Awareness. First and foremost, employees must become aware of the need for change. If employees lack this basic awareness, they will likely feel besieged and alienated by change programs.
  • Desire. Next, it is necessary to actually ignite the desire to support change. Unless employees actually feel motivated, they will not support change. 
  • Knowledge. Skills and knowledge are also necessary for employees to actually enact change. This is why employee training plays such an important role in organizational change efforts.
  • Ability. Employees must also be able to demonstrate that they have the abilities and behaviors required to implement true change.
  • Reinforcement. Over time, employees will typically revert to old behaviors and practices. Change managers can prevent that problem by reinforcing the changes after the change management program’s completion.

Other popular models include Kurt Lewin’s change model and John Kotter’s model, both of which focus exclusively on driving change by enabling and supporting individual employees.

Why do change management programs focus on change at the individual level?

An organization is operated by its employees, and unless those employees can drive change, organizational changes will be less likely to succeed.

For instance, as the ADKAR model suggests, organizational changes will be more productive when employees are…

  • Supportive
  • Motivated
  • Engaged
  • Knowledgeable

And so forth.

On the other hand, if change is improperly communicated, employees can feel besieged, confused, and frustrated.

This can result in resistance or, in a worst case scenario, hostility and anger.

These are a few of the most important reasons why change management programs emphasize change at the individual level.

What role does organizational culture play in organizational change?

Today, corporate culture has become a trending topic among change managers, HR specialists, and other business professionals who want to drive change in their organizations.

And there are good reasons for this.

Organizational culture affects employee behavior, which in turn affects productivity, attitudes, social interactions, and more.

All of those factors, in turn, can affect the organization’s performance as well as the effectiveness of organizational change programs.

In some instances, culture can have an impact on proposed cultural change efforts.

For instance, the following traits can be beneficial for a forward-thinking, digital-first organization:

  • Digital literacy. Digital skills are in demand, but there is a significant shortage in the modern economy. Digital literacy the first step in that direction – a necessary step for employees to become productive, contributing members of a workforce.
  • Data-driven. Data cultures incorporate data-driven business practices into the very fabric of the organization. Correct use of data can result in massive gains whenever it is applied, which is why many organizations choose to make data an integral part of their corporate culture.
  • Innovative. Innovative ideas can be found everywhere, but unless an organization is open to those ideas, it will not be able to exploit them. Innovation can be built into the culture by, for instance, installing mechanisms that regularly tap employee ingenuity. At one point Google gave employees a full workday each week to work on their own projects.
  • Self-reliance. When employees can operate independently and rely on their own resources and ingenuity, they will be less of a burden on other business units and departments.
  • Pro-learning. Perpetual change is a defining feature of the modern economy, which means that perpetual learning has become the norm for many employees. A pro-learning culture can help employees and organizations keep up, compete, and even gain an edge in their industry.

However, culture may not always interfere with proposed change programs.

Since organizational culture change can be difficult … and changes are costly and psychologically taxing for employees, it is important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of such a culture change. 

After all, it would do little good to invest in a culture change program only to have it backfire.

Instead of attempting to change culture rapidly and radically, therefore, it can be wiser to invest in long-term systems – such as recruitment strategies – that can gradually cultivate the desired culture.

What role does digital technology play in organizational change and change management?

Technology, as we have seen already, is a major driving force behind many of today’s organizational change efforts.

For example, digital technology fuels:

  • Digital transformation. Digital transformation, as covered elsewhere in this guide, involves extensive organizational changes – more specifically, it revolves around the digitalization of business practices, processes, and models.
  • Digital adoption. Digital adoption is the process of adopting new technology, using it for its intended purpose, and utilizing it to its fullest extent. 
  • Digital-first business strategies. A digital-first business leverages digital technology to envision and enable new business models, practices, and processes. 
  • Digital cultures. As mentioned, a digital culture improves employees’ digital skills, while embedding digital-friendly behavior into the fabric of the business culture. 
  • The digital workplace. A digital workplace fully adopts digital technology, while also taking advantage of modern work practices, such as remote working, online collaboration, and data-driven work processes.

To stay modern, competitive, and relevant, these are the types of changes and areas that many enterprises are staying focused on.

How do you measure the results of a change management program?

As with most business processes, ROI is measured by evaluating how successfully a program achieves its stated objectives.

Certain business processes, such as employee training, have a narrow focus and the goals tend to remain consistent from training program to training program.

Organizational changes, however, can vary widely in scope and purpose.

For that reason, the metrics used will also vary to a wide degree.

If an organization implements a new digital adoption platform (DAP) to boost employee productivity, for example, it would track areas such as:

  • Digital proficiency levels
  • Time-to-competency
  • The number and cost of technical support calls
  • Employee sentiment around the software experience
  • Employee productivity with the target software application

Analysis of these metrics over time would offer insight into the performance of the change management program. And that information could then be used to further enhance the program over time.

Understanding Digital Transformation: A Top Driver of Modern Change Management Programs

As briefly mentioned above, the digital revolution is a global trend that affects the way we work and live, driving digital transformation in businesses large and small.

Since so many organizational changes are driven by technology, it pays to understand how this force affects businesses.

Digital Disruption and Innovation

When an innovative, advanced technology enters the marketplace – one that is substantially different or better than existing technology – it can have a disruptive effect on the marketplace.

This effect, called digital disruption, can have profound impacts on the way that markets operate.

Among other things, digital disruption can:

  • Threaten existing business models
  • Overthrow industry leaders
  • Transform the way a sector operates
  • Change or eliminate existing business processes or practices

Such disruptions to an existing marketplace will usually trigger a response from competitors: digital transformation.

Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is a type of organizational change specifically focused on areas such as:

  • Increasing maturity
  • Adaptation
  • Industry growth
  • Survival
  • Gaining a competitive advantage

Naturally, the type of organizational change will vary based on the business, its strategic aim, its industry, and so forth.

Here are a few examples:

  • Leveraging technology to upgrade the customer experience. An organization that adopts a new martech stack will have the ability to drastically improve the customer experience. However, this type of transformation will involve a great many changes, requiring the adoption of new technology, business practices, and ways of thinking.
  • Adopting new digital software to increase efficiency. A CRM platform, for instance, can increase the efficiency of sales departments. And digital adoption platforms can further increase the efficiency of employee training, massively increasing employee productivity and output. 
  • Modernizing the organization’s IT infrastructure. An IT infrastructure refers to an organization’s underlying hardware, operating systems, network architecture, and other resources. If this infrastructure is obsolete or out of date, then all of the organization’s other services and solutions will suffer.
  • Enhancing the digital workplace in order to increase workforce performance. The digital workplace, as mentioned, is built upon a mixture of human and machine components. Software, hardware, and other technology components work together alongside “soft” aspects of the workplace, such as skills, attitudes, and behaviors. The right digital technology can help integrate these variables, improving efficiency, effectiveness, and the overall workplace atmosphere.

In many cases, digital transformations are complex, long-term, and transformative.

To become a truly modern, digital-first organization, in other words, a business must often engage in multiple simultaneous change projects.

The Need to Manage Digital Change

Even relatively straightforward organizational changes can benefit from structured change management programs.

However, the need for change management becomes acute when organizations introduce sweeping changes such as digital transformation.

As mentioned above, a structured change management program can:

  • Improve the outcomes of change initiatives
  • Decrease employee frustration and resistance
  • Lower project costs
  • Shorten project timelines

And much more.

The benefits magnify when it comes to digital transformation, a much more complex and difficult proposition.

Developing a change management program takes time, effort, and resources, which is why some businesses choose not to invest in it.

However, the benefits far outweigh the costs, making it well worth the time.

In the next section, we will look at a straightforward approach to creating and executing a results-focused change management program.

How to Create and Implement a Change Management Program: A 5-Step Process

Change management is a business discipline unto itself, and cannot be completely covered in just a few minutes.

However, in this high-level overview, we can introduce the overall change management process, which can help business professionals see the benefit – and the need – for a structured change management program.

Here is how to create a change program in five steps:

1. Understand the organization’s current needs

Generally, business leaders initiate changes in order to increase organizational performance or improve the organization in some way.

With aims such as those in mind, it is up to business leaders and change leaders to decide exactly how to make improvements.

Organizational assessments provide the information needed to create proper solutions – that is, change programs.

Assessments should cover areas such as:

  • The business area being changed. An organization aiming to improve its employee productivity, for instance, would start by evaluating current productivity levels, training programs, and other factors that impact productivity.
  • The organizational culture. Culture can play a significant role in the digital workplace, employee performance, and the outcomes of an organizational change program. It is useful to assess a culture before beginning a program in order to determine its potential impact.
  • Digital maturity. An organization’s digital maturity includes not only its technological capabilities, but also the skills and abilities of the workforce. This is why digital adoption plays such an important role in the modern enterprise – organizations with robust adoption functions can stay mature, competent, and productive in the modern age.
  • Change readiness. Change readiness is an overall representation of an organization’s ability and willingness to change. It includes factors such as employees’ skills and abilities, the availability of tools, and any other variable that would influence people’s ability to make change happen.
  • Potential solutions. Assessments should also carefully evaluate the range of potential solutions, their benefits, the costs, their viability, time to implementation, and so forth.

With that information in hand, it is time to develop a roadmap for change.

2. Design the solution and the change management program

As mentioned earlier, there is a technical difference between an organizational change program and a change management program.

Change programs focus on the intended change – the solution – itself.

The organizational change program should:

  • Adequately solve the problem in question
  • Improve organizational performance
  • Meet the organization’s strategic needs
  • Be affordable 

Change management programs, however, focus on managing the implementation of that solution.

The change management program, however, will focus on managing the implementation of that solution.

That program should:

  • Communicate the need for change
  • Engage and motivate
  • Provide tools, knowledge, and skills
  • Maintain accountability
  • Keep the program on schedule
  • Monitor and analyze efforts
  • Reinforce change

Change management models, as mentioned, are ideal tools for change managers and leaders.

These frameworks can act as a basis for change management programs, since they provide a step-by-step approach for managing change projects.

A few popular change management frameworks include:

  • The ADKAR model
  • Kurt Lewin’s change model
  • John Kotter’s 8-Step change model

More information can be found on our change management blog.

3. Mobilize support and form teams

Once the organizational change solution and the change management program have been designed, it is time to mobilize support.

For a change program to be effective, project coordinators should obtain support from multiple levels, including:

  • Executives
  • Senior and middle managers
  • Ground-level employees
  • Business partners

In short, anyone who is involved in any way with a change effort should be on board and supportive.

However, earning that support is easier said than done.

To obtain buy-in, it is important to:

  • Sell business leaders on the organizational performance benefits of the change effort, as well as the change management program
  • Explain how the change program will personally benefit individual employees
  • Communicate the reasons for the change
  • Clearly outline the change program – that is, the plan of action
  • Detail everyone’s responsibilities and the accountability mechanisms that will be implemented

Once all of these are in place and commitment has been earned, it is time to roll out the initiative.

4. Implement, lead, and manage

Rolling out an organizational change can be complex, straightforward, or anywhere in between.

Here are a few tips for improving the rollout:

  • Review progress regularly
  • Don’t just manage change, lead it
  • Set an example for others to follow
  • Choose the right rollout style for your circumstances
  • Coordinate closely with team members

One of the most important activities to engage in, however, is optimization.

5. Use data to optimize the program

To stay relevant, productive, and profitable, organizational change programs – not to mention other business endeavors – must continually be improved upon.

Optimization will require:

  • An agile business methodology
  • Continued data tracking 
  • The measurement of key employee metrics
  • Comparison of actual performance against targets
  • Adjustment of strategies or processes when necessary

Traditionally, change management, HR, and other employee-centered disciplines are not data-driven business functions.

However, in the digital age, data-driven methods can dramatically improve the efficiency and effectiveness of business processes.

Tips and Strategies for Creating an Effective, Efficient Digital Change Program 

Finally, we will look at a few tips that can further improve an organization’s change management efforts:

Use technology to improve engagement and results for individual employees

Change management, as we have seen, is focused on driving change at the individual level.

Though some business professionals worry about the dehumanizing effect of technology, the correct use of technology can dramatically improve the employee experience.

When designing change programs – not to mention employee experience programs and other employee-related programs – it pays to leverage technology.

Here are a few areas to focus on when developing change management programs:

  • Personalization. Personalizing products and services means making them more relevant to an individual’s wants and needs. Today, technology enables unprecedented levels of personalization, which can dramatically increase engagement. When applied in the workplace, personalization can improve employee engagement, performance, productivity, and more.
  • Individualized training. Employee training plays a crucial role in the modern work environment, as well as in change programs. The better the training, the better employees will be able to support change management programs. A proper approach to digital training should employee modern methods, such as interactive, contextualized training.
  • User-centered design. A design approach built around users will help keep programs more relevant and useful. User-centered design (UCD), like agile, lean, and other modern business practices, are built around users. In change management, project organizers can leverage employee survey data, software analytics, performance metrics, and other data sources to develop user-centered processes and designs.

Approaches such as these will help change managers create programs that are more immediately relevant to employees – and, as a result, more engaging and profitable.

Automate

Used properly, automation technology can offer a number of benefits during digital transformation and organizational change.

For instance, digital adoption platforms (DAPs) can be used to automate employee training efforts through:

  • Automated product tours that take users through an application’s core features, helping familiarize employees with new software quickly and automatically
  • Interactive in-app walkthroughs that can take users step by step through a series of tasks, helping improve user proficiency and productivity
  • Task automation, which can take over repetitive tasks and free up employee time for more engaging and valuable activities

Naturally, over-automation can decrease engagement.

However, with usable, personalized technology such as a digital adoption platform, change managers can greatly improve the outcomes of their digital transformation efforts.

Build a digital culture

It is important to understand that, in the digital age, all business processes are undergoing gradual digital transformation.

This means that all businesses must inevitably digitalize their business from top to bottom – and one of the most important areas to focus on is digital culture.

A digital culture emphasizes areas such as:

  • Data
  • Customer experience
  • Learning
  • Digitally mature

This is not to say that every company should become a technology company.

However, it does mean that digital technology should form an integral part of every business – and one of the best way to ensure that technology is a core part of the company is by creating a digital-friendly culture.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.