Hunting for a definition of change management is like searching for a needle in a haystack — full of needles. There are so many out there! And they can differ from each other hugely.
So how do you know which one is the right one?
As with anything, there is no single, perfect definition of change management. We’re complex, multidimensional beings. So change management can have subtle variations depending on the situation.
This is what makes it such a complex and rewarding discipline.
But that doesn’t mean you should quit searching for a definition of change management. You just need to find the right one for you.
In the process, you may start to be aware of the different approaches people have to it. For example; the visionary CEO’s view of change management, versus the resistant middle manager’s definition.
As Bart Perkins, writing in CIO, puts it:
“In modern IT, change management has many different guises. Project managers view change management as the process used to obtain approval for changes to the scope, timeline, or budget of a project.
“Infrastructure professionals consider change management to be the process for approving, testing, and installing a new piece of equipment, a cloud instance, or a new release of an application.”
Talking about change management can cause confusion. This is because it means something slightly different to everyone.
For the purposes of this article, “change” means any event or program that causes major disruption to business operations. For example, digital transformation.
Selecting a definition of change management
I scoured the internet and whittled down the reams of results to this list of good definitions.
1. Performance Horizons
I love this definition because it’s so simple.
“Organizational change management ensures that the new processes resulting from a project are actually adopted by the people who are affected.”
PROSCI is often referenced when it comes to change management. So this list wouldn’t be complete without their definition.
“Change management is the process, tools and techniques to manage the people side of change to achieve the required business outcome.”
3. PROSCI (version 2!)
PROSCI actually offers a second definition of change management, but it’s more or less the same as the first.
“Change management is the discipline that guides how we prepare, equip and support individuals to successfully adopt change in order to drive organizational success and outcomes.”
IOCMI takes an interesting approach by separating the people side of change from the strategic side.
“For those Management Consultants who realize there is a lot more to change than simply people, Organizational Change is what we describe when alluding to organizational change which is driven by strategy, which can happen at any-level of the organization. Organizational Change generally includes Change Management, the people side of change.”
This definition is great because it refers to the importance of taking a defined approach to managing change.
“ACMP defines change management as the practice of applying a structured approach to transition an organization from a current state to a future state to achieve expected benefits.”
What search would be complete without a quick look at Wikipedia? And in fact, this definition is very close to PROSCI’s second version.
“Change management (sometimes abbreviated as CM) is a collective term for all approaches to prepare and support individuals, teams, and organizations in making organizational change.”
7. Achieve It
I like Achieve It’s analysis of simplistic definitions like the one from Performance Horizons.
“At its core, change management implies transformation. The process an organization undergoes when it’s dissatisfied with the way it looks or performs and hopes to move toward a better future.”
8. Tech Target
Finally, Tech Target provides an excellent explanatory couple of sentences for change management.
“Change management is a systematic approach to dealing with the transition or transformation of an organization’s goals, processes or technologies. The purpose of change management is to implement strategies for effecting change, controlling change and helping people to adapt to change.”
Using your definition of change management
Why are there so many definitions? It’s because the term “change management” describes a number of different things, including:
- The task of managing change;
- An area of professional practice;
- A body of knowledge (consisting of models, methods, techniques, and other tools); and
- A control mechanism (consisting of requirements, standards, processes and procedures).
So when you’re preparing for your next change initiative, remember this:
Before you can communicate it effectively to others, define what change management means to you.