Why Organizational Change Processes Approach Change from the Individual

Why do organizational change processes approach change from the individual?

After all, it seems that it would be easier to design systems, processes, and procedures … then have people follow them.

Unfortunately, real change doesn’t work that way.

Organizational change requires support from the ground up – from the individual level.

After all, people run organizations. Their support is a prerequisite for any change project.

Below, we’ll explore how and why change processes approach change from the level of the individual.

Why Business Change Processes Approach Change from the Individual

Organizational change is a big, sweeping process.

There are many types of organizational change, such as:

  • Cultural Shifts – Corporate cultures are not easy to change, but it is possible. These changes can help an organization transition to one that is more digital, progressive, efficient, or competitive, for instance. Culture changes are not necessarily “good” or “bad” – but they are often aimed at a specific purpose, such as aiding organizational strategy.
  • Process Changes – A business process can be made more efficient, for instance. There are many ways to accomplish this: improving employee productivity, training employees, adopting digital technology, and so forth. These processes can impact a variety of departments and also impact other areas of business, such as culture.
  • Strategic Changes – Organizational strategy often drives most change programs. The adoption of digital technology, for example, can help an organization improve its competitive position. However, organizations may also adjust the strategy itself, to improve its future outlook and direction.
  • Digital Transformation – Digital transformation is the transformation of a company’s technology, culture, work environment, and workflow via digital technology. These changes can all dramatically affect an organization in many different areas, from work processes to the customer experience.

To name a few.

Anyone unfamiliar with change management may assume that change management should be approached systematically and strategically.

And it should.

However, change processes approach change from the individual level, for a few very good reasons:

  • Organizations are made up of individuals – without their support, trust, and effort, organization-wide change can run into serious roadblocks.
  • Individuals also need to understand how to change – otherwise they won’t have the ability to effect change.
  • Group psychology, corporate culture, and other group dynamics directly impact outcomes – change programs that don’t attempt to influence these group dynamics leave those outcomes up to chance.

It is for reasons such as these that change management has built entire frameworks around individual change.

How to Design Processes Aimed at Individual Change

Change management frameworks are designed to engage employees and facilitate individual change.

In a nutshell, change frameworks help change specialists:

  • Build awareness around the need for change. People must become aware of the need for change before it occurs. If change is sprung on people without warning, then shock can result in disengagement, alienation, and opposition.
  • Build skills. Onboarding, employee training, and education are necessary for most change projects. Today, digital transformation initiatives account for many such projects – these often require extensive digital skills training, digital adoption solutions, and modern education approaches.
  • Reinforce change and build momentum by celebrating wins and rewarding progress. As change moves forward, people must know they are making progress – and feel good about it. Change frameworks advise reinforcing change through reward systems, recognition, and similar mechanisms.
  • Set up goals, milestones, metrics, and timelines – that is, they manage change projects from beginning to end. Change management overlaps with project management, because managers must manage projects that have well-defined start and finish lines. However, change projects are tightly integrated with a business, which blurs boundaries and can make them more complex than standalone projects.
  • Use data and feedback to analyze individuals’ performance metrics, then make adjustments as necessary. Data drives success in today’s digital company. Organizations that can utilize data effectively have an advantage over those that don’t. Change management should also make use of data to improve results – from predictive modeling to employee performance analysis.

Ideas such as these are baked into many popular change frameworks.

Change Management Frameworks Start with the Individual

Change management is a business discipline with roots in academia. 

This discipline has given rise to a number of change management models. 

Universally, they focus on driving organizational change through individual change.

A few of these frameworks include:

  • The Lewin Model – Viewed by most as a pioneer in the field, Kurt Lewin developed a simple 3-stage change framework that defined organizational change: unfreezing, transition, and re-freezing. This simple model offered insights that could be applied during each stage of the process.
  • Kotter’s 8-Step Change Framework – John Kotter is another authority in the field. His 8-step model was originally released in the 1990s, along with his popular work, Leading Change. It incorporates many of the ideas mentioned above.
  • The ADKAR Model – Jeff Hiatt founded Prosci, one of the world’s leading change management consultancies, which uses this model. The ADKAR change management model has 5 stages: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Action, Reinforcement. Like the other models here, it is founded upon the idea that individual change leads to effective organizational change.

There are other change management frameworks, models, and roadmaps.

Some are more widely used than others. And some are used within specific industries. 

Certain change models in healthcare, for instance, are derived from other well-established models – yet they are used almost exclusively within the medical industry.

Final Thoughts

Change management is a cross-disciplinary business function.

As we have seen here, change processes approach change from the individual level. 

However, change management is a complex discipline. And, in today’s digital era, this is more true than ever.

Effective change managers understand that change begins with the individual.

But to become well-rounded, proficient practitioners, they also learn about other aspects of organizational change – such as digital technology and modern business approaches.

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.