Change Management WalkMe TeamUpdated September 21, 2022

What Is Change Management & How Does It Work?

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What Is Change Management & How Does It Work?

Today we’ll be going over the essence of the effective change management process. We’ll find out what it is, what it can do for you, and most importantly, the pitfalls it can help you avoid while implementing change. Whether adding new technology, restructuring your organization, or simply responding to external market factors, managing change is an unfortunate fact of life. Nobody likes it, especially not crucial stakeholders and senior executives in the business, since it disrupts the careful strategies that have been laid out.

By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll have some idea of how change management processes can benefit you and those in your organization. You’ll also find out where to begin when looking to implement company-wide enterprise change management 101.

Defining Change Management 

Defining Change Management

Change management is a blanket term that change management professionals use to refer to the different ways of preparing for, supporting, and finalizing change after the fact. When planning your change management, you often need to look at who and what is being affected in your organization to narrow down options for your strategy or change initiative.

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Nobody likes change, which extends to your employees, clients, etc. When new processes or protocols are put into place, when new equipment or methods are being used, there’s going to be backlash, as well as mistakes and oversights that aren’t intentional but nevertheless have a similar detrimental effect. 

Taking a structured approach to change management will help minimize these. Training your teams on the new processes and gently easing them into the change rather than throwing them off the deep end and expecting them to swim is the best way of developing a positive employee experience

Above all, change management processes are about information. By passing on information about what’s going on and, more importantly, why, you can get people invested in the change and help move it along instead of resisting it. 

What Are The Benefits Of The Change Management Process?

What Are The Benefits Of The Change Management Process_

The change management process has one goal – to stop the disruption of essential processes caused by implementing change. You’ve probably come across a store or office that’s had to close for a while when upgrading their computers – this is precisely what change management is designed to avoid! Adopting a mindset that goes hand in hand with company culture is key to decreasing resistance.

Generally, you can break the benefits of change management down into a few simple categories:

Revenue/Operations:

Work isn’t getting done if your business isn’t running as usual. If work isn’t getting done, you’re not making any money. Change management lets you continue working alongside most small changes, preventing the loss of revenue that would come and preventing a backlog building up that you’d have to frantically deal with later.

Team Morale:

Your employees will be the ones dealing with the implemented change and, through no fault of their own, will end up slowing down, causing mistakes, and becoming demoralized if you don’t have a proper change management plan in place. 

With the aforementioned plan, you can not only keep your employees informed and enthusiastic about the coming change but train them either beforehand or as you go where necessary, preventing mistakes and keeping morale high.

Customer Engagement/Reputation:

As previously mentioned, if your daily goings-on are disrupted, you’ll end up with a backlog of work. This is bad from an operations perspective but also the point of view of customer relations. Consumers aren’t patient in today’s era of instant communication and express shipping. Having orders delayed and work not carried out on time will be a huge blow to your reputation.

By using a change management strategy, you can keep your operations running, but you can also anticipate the delays that change might cause and keep your customers updated. If someone expects an order in three days and you deliver it in five, they’ll be unsatisfied, but if you’re upfront about the delays and they expect it to take five days, there shouldn’t be a problem.

Individual vs. Organizational Change Management

Individual vs. Organizational Change Management

Change management models can be applied on both the individual and the organizational level. In a sense, the two are opposites, with one focusing on a top-down approach that takes the entire organization as the priority and one taking the bottom-up approach, which puts the individual employee first. 

Both individual and organizational change management are valid approaches, but the ideal strategy would combine the two. Let’s examine their differences and what might cause you to lean either way.

Individual Change Management

Individual change management is about the people involved in the change process. It’s an approach that looks at the mindset of anyone involved in the change and seeks to support them through the process. It considers that people resist change on a fundamental level, whether they mean to or not, and looks to inform and train your people so they’re better prepared.

Since employees tend to work in teams, you can apply the same concepts to everyone on the team, meaning it’s less personalized in the beginning than you might think. Being too specific, adding plans for each individual, etc., can quickly devolve into micromanagement and overly complex plans that stand no hope of realistically being carried out, so striking a balance is key to this approach.

Organizational Change Management

Organizational change management is the top-down approach I mentioned before. It first looks at the change from the organization’s perspective, applying principles to create a framework for change within the entire organization. 

Generally, this approach is seen as more robotic and less flexible than individual change management, but it does have its strengths. For instance, by ensuring that each department is aware of your vision, you can keep them on track to achieve what you wanted out of the change, rather than just focusing on the change itself. 

It’s no use having gone to all the effort of adding a new computer application to speed up a process if the team using it implements it in such a way that it wastes as much time as it saves. Organizational change management team keeps an eye on the big picture, what you want to get out of planned changes, and how you might achieve it.

Change Management Roles

Change Management Roles

Change management has different sides of it, depending on what role you have within an organization. With the ultimate goal being to keep things running smoothly and prevent any setbacks from change, you’ll need to think about change in different ways depending on where you stand.

Fortunately, most of the basic tenets of change management apply across all roles. Keep things running, minimize resistance, and don’t keep your team in the dark – these are all factors you’ll need to consider no matter who you are. 

That being said, let’s dive into some of the more specific sides of change management and how key roles in an organization can use it.

Change Management For Project Managers

Change Management For Project Managers

As a project manager, you’re in charge of a team or department that’s overseeing a project. Whether you’re managing the project for a client or for the upper management, there are several ways in which change might occur and that you might cope with it:

Anticipatory:

Sometimes, you’re unsure what will happen next within a project. Will the client choose option A or B? Will a certain process you’ve designed work or not? Anticipating changes that might come and roughly planning around them is key to project management, as it keeps the entire thing from grinding to a halt at the first sign of trouble.

Reactive:

Despite your best efforts, no one can account for everything. Unseen factors, unexpected outcomes, and more, change will come that you didn’t expect to happen. Planning around that change is called reactive change management. It’s the least ideal of all approaches since the project, or parts of the project, will be halted when unexpected events happen, but it is absolutely necessary to get it right.

Incremental:

When introducing changes, you don’t always want to make changes all at once. Changing out a process or project factor completely overnight may be the fastest way to do things, but the impact on your project will be huge. By altering your project one small step at a time, you minimize these disruptions and keep your team on track. 

If you’re simply looking to change the scope of a project rather than abandon it and start a new one, it’s likely that all work done up to this point is still relevant and can be tweaked to fit the new direction over time. Incremental change might take longer overall, but it’s much easier to deal with daily and will cause your team much fewer headaches.

Change Management For Software Developers

Change Management For Software Developers

Change management in software development is much easier to track than in other fields since you’re looking at a tangible product that can be defined and documented over time. In this field, change regularly comes, with technological limitations and client-requested alterations being all too common.

The good news for software developers is that employees aren’t likely to be much of an issue. By its nature, software development is volatile, sometimes more akin to scientific research than product design. Your team will be used to change and thus require much less oversight when small changes occur.

Generally, you can break down change management in software development into several steps that need to occur:

  • A team member or client creating requests for change
  • Reviewing said request for feasibility
  • Planning the change, specifically how the code would need to be altered
  • Testing the change to make sure that it works as intended
  • Proposing the change to either the client, manager, etc.
  • Implementing the change, effectively replacing the old code with the new
  • Checking that the new code doesn’t have any unforeseen consequences on your software as a whole
  • Finishing up the process once you’re satisfied bugs are minimal

If the code fails any checks, it is either re-done, or the change proposal is simply scrapped. Change comes out of the blue in software development due to bugs, budget concerns, or key performance indicators issues. Change comes out of the blue in software development, and you need to be ready for it.

Change Management For IT Infrastructure

Change Management For IT Infrastructure

When you’re working in IT infrastructure, it’s not just you that’s dependent on your work being done correctly. While this can be said of most areas, it’s especially true in the IT industry.

Generally, almost all other departments in your organization will have processes that are done on computers. When you implement change, it needs to be done in such a way as to minimize disruption to them, not just to you.

Change management in IT comes in three types, according to the ITIL framework:

  • Standard changes: These are low-risk, common changes that are pre-approved and have already gone through risk management. Standard changes follow a well-defined, quick and easy process, for instance, swapping out a broken component or creating a new database.
  • Normal changes: These are similarly routine as standard changes a lot of the time but don’t have a pre-approved process. Whether unexpected or simply because they can’t be anticipated, normal changes tend to be once-off rather than repeatable. Upgrading a computer to work on the next version of Windows would be an example of a normal change.
  • Emergency changes: These are where things get tricky. Emergency changes don’t have a pre-approved process because they arise from unexpected errors or threats that need to be dealt with immediately. They also have a much shorter timescale in general than normal changes because they often cause crashes or significant errors within databases. A server outage and an emergency patch are both examples of this type of change.

Which of these categories changes fall into is usually self-explanatory, but there are overlaps. You might encounter an error while upgrading your systems that cause it to be classified as an emergency change or something similar. Generally, you should keep your approach flexible and always keep your risk assessments in mind when implementing anything other than standard changes.

Implementing Change: Delivering New Employee Models

Implementing Change_ Delivering New Employee Models

It’s very rare for anyone to work in a vacuum anymore. The age of looking down from the ivory tower is gone – teamwork and collaboration are the names of the game. This applies anywhere from the smallest teams to on the level of corporations – you can’t expect to thrive if your workforce stagnates. Whether it’s contracting outside help or adding additional members, you need to update constantly if you want to be the cream of the crop.

That being said, any kind of improvement to your workforce is, by definition, a change. Thus, change management should be used when approaching this concept and engaging in it.

Access To Evolving Skills

In the age of technology, skills are constantly evolving and changing when new software releases come into play, or new features become available. Even jobs that you might think of as wholly divorced from higher technology, such as farming or mining, can take advantage of the internet for weather predictions, figuring out what conditions are taking place in the upcoming days and the precautions they’ll need to implement.

You can’t train somebody on a piece of software that doesn’t yet exist. Furthermore, existing skills might not be considered crucial to the field, so your employees might ignore them. It’s vital that you keep an eye on new releases, features, etc., of the technology you use to keep your team up to date. What’s initially a quirk might turn into a necessity after all, and change management is needed to decide where to draw the line.

Take, for example, mechanical checkouts vs. barcode scanning ones. Initially, they might have seemed like a fad to some – why bother going to all the trouble of implementing them if a well-trained cashier can use a mechanical one just as fast? Looking at the big picture now, we know that they’re essential for any modern store, and any organization that doesn’t implement them will fall behind.

Collaboration

As mentioned previously, working together is key in today’s day and age. However, a lot of people have trouble with this concept, preferring to work alone and on their own little section of your organization. This isn’t always feasible, especially when organizations collaborate with others.

The issue comes to light when you consider that everything is interconnected. Take the example of software development – you can write a piece of code that perfectly follows your own organization’s standards. Still, if you’re working with another organization, it needs to fit theirs too. Fail to communicate, to collaborate successfully, and you’ll probably end up with code that’s not worth the pixels it’s written with.

Change management is key to collaboration for many reasons, the foremost one being that collaboration takes different approaches each time. You might be the project lead on one occasion and take a back seat on another. You’ve successfully reduced confusion and possible misunderstandings by keeping your team up to date and knowing exactly what is going on. 

Building The Talent Pool

Of course, not all of your work can be done inside your organization. No matter how big you are, there’s always something that will crop up that you don’t have an expert in or want a second opinion on. A talent pool is a list of outside talent you have previously worked with and can potentially contact to join you on a temporary or permanent basis.

Change management applies here just as much as in any other place in your organization. Adding new people into an existing workflow is disruptive, especially if your team members have to change how they do things to account for the new factor. There’s an entire industry based around employee onboarding, but very few seem to consider the existing ones too.

The Principles Of Managing Change

The Principles Of Managing Change

Change management is simple in theory. You manage change by taking into account the factors involved. Change management principles are relatively straightforward, as they’re the four steps you need to take to create a successful change management strategy.

The steps, along with some questions that you ask yourself along the way, are, in order:

  • Understanding: Why do you need the change? What do you hope to get out of it? How will it affect your organization on the individual and the whole?
  • Planning: How do you plan to implement the change? What obstacles can you see that might affect your plan? Who is best placed to supervise the change?
  • Implementing: What are the success criteria? What change management model will you be using?
  • Communicating: Are your employees fully aware of the necessity for change? Are they on board with it or resisting? Are stakeholders satisfied with the change?

If you encounter difficulties in either of the latter two stages, return to the planning stages and reassess your situation. There’s no shame in admitting that you can’t consider every factor involved, and plans sometimes go through several iterations before completion.

How Does Change Management Intersect With Digital Adoption?

Digital adoption is the process of leveraging your digital assets to their fullest potential. It’s something that often intersects with change management on a fundamental level. After all, improving your digital situation is still a change, no matter how positive it might be.

Digital adoption goes hand in hand with any tech upgrade or alteration your organization goes through. Whether using a new piece of software or upgrading your hardware, you should leverage digital adoption within your change management strategy to get the most out of your new upgrades. After all, you want to maximize the cost/benefit ratio in your favor with each upgrade, and training your team is a part of that.

So there we go! Hopefully, you’ve learned a little more about change management, how it applies to organizations on both individual and wide levels, and how you might use it in ways you didn’t think of before. 

Change management is integral to running any organization, so consider it when you next make a change, no matter how minor it may seem.

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