How to build an effective change management process

by Jackie Smith, on 12/05/20 17:31

In a world full of constantly evolving unknowns, change is one of the only sure bets. As situations change, companies that are able to plan for the future and adapt quickly are more likely to succeed long-term.

Developing an organizational culture where change is not only accepted, but also embraced, is no small feat. Many employees associate the term “change management” with disruption and short-term inconvenience that probably won’t make their lives any easier in the long run either. 

With previous system upgrades that were overhyped and underperform, it’s hard to blame them for their skepticism. Employee resistance can be an ongoing battle when establishing change management processes, but when done well, planned changes are an essential step in a company’s evolution. 

Simply put, companies that do change management well survive. Companies that don’t adapt probably aren’t destined to last long. 

What are the core elements of change management and how can companies build systems that work well for them? Here are the nuts and bolts of how to build an effective change management process that meets your company’s needs and objectives.

What is a change management process?

A change management process, in the simplest terms, is the battle plan that an organization uses to navigate through a major change or upgrade. As the comprehensive roadmap, change management processes outline the step-by-step plan from the present situation to the desired future outcome.

Just like corporate strategy, change management processes vary drastically based on company and culture. With that said, all change management processes should include the sequence of steps that need to be taken, the milestones that need to be reached, the people responsible for completing tasks, and an expected timeline for each phase.

As you can probably tell, change management is a broad and inclusive concept -- which makes agreeing on a one-size-fits-all definition rather impractical. The one constant that change management experts agree on is that excellent communication is paramount. 

Every effective change management process needs clear, efficient communication channels. Everybody involved in the change process -- from CEO to IT assistant -- should know their roles, be equipped to execute their responsibilities and report back to project managers. 

Why is change management so important?

Companies with effective change management processes are better equipped to adjust to technological advancements, consumer behavior shifts, economic recessions and whatever unknowns they come up against. 

Identifying areas in which your company needs to improve is imperative to any business. Accepting your weaknesses and developing change management processes can be long, painful and humbling, but transparency and brutal honesty are the foundation for building the most valuable change strategies that will position you for sustained success. 

A successfully implemented change will likely involve a large amount of preparation, research, rehearsal, time, and of course, money, but this route is better than two other frightening alternatives: 

  • Do nothing and be left behind by your competitors
  • Rush through poorly planned change management processes and create more complicated future problems

The stakes are too high when making major organizational changes and technology upgrades to be hesitant, frugal or rash. Investing in the future reality that you want to create will position you to meet and surpass your long-term goals.

How to build a change management process

Developing a change management process from scratch initially can seem overwhelming, but splitting it into measurable goals will make it feel more manageable. We break the change management process into nine steps -- starting by clearly defining goals and concluding with reflection on key lessons for future change events:

  • Define specific measurable goals of the change

Most major changes originate from a long-term goal that company leaders want to reach. Clearly defining the desired outcome -- both quantitatively and qualitatively -- is the first step of developing a change management process. 

Let’s say a bank wants to launch automated help features on their mobile banking app. Their goals might be to:

  • Build a “FAQ and Help” portal for their mobile app 
  • Make answers to 50 common banking questions available to all app users
  • Integrate a “Chat with a banker” feature so customers can troubleshoot problems in real time
  • Increase mobile banking app users by 25% within one year of launch

With several clearly defined goals, it will be easier to pitch the value to stakeholders and get necessary approvals. Ultimate decision-makers usually have a wide array of experiences so goals should be simple, relatable and tailored to the target audience. 

Draw up one set of key points for the CEO who is responsible for financing the project and another for process development experts who will spend months implementing the change management process.

Remember that gaining stamps of approval from all necessary constituents will take time and patience. You will likely need to make multiple presentations and navigate various layers of resistance. 

Focus on those clear, measurable results that demonstrate the proposed change’s value. With thorough preparation and patience, you will increase the likelihood that your proposed change is approved.

  • Highlight who and what will be affected

Building upon the big picture goals, change management processes should specifically define who the change is designed for, what current systems will be affected and how the change will result in improvement for the company.

Going back to our mobile banking app example, we have a few groups of people who will benefit from automating help features on their mobile app:

  • Mobile banking customers will have a more intuitive app platform and easier access to help features
  • Customer service representatives will have a more modern and effective communication platform that will save time and aggravation
  • Investors and prospective customers will see that IT systems and customer service standards are high and be more inclined to choose your bank

When considering how each demographic is affected by the change, provide concrete evidence to support the change that you envision for each group by asking and answering tough questions: 

  • What specific tools will improve the mobile banking user experience most? 
  • How will customer service representatives’ new workflows be better than their current processes? 
  • What benchmarks will demonstrate to investors that the mobile banking app is increasing business? 

If you can cite more empirical evidence for each affected demographic, your argument will be that much more persuasive.

Prepare your in-depth change management strategy

Once you get approval, it’s time to move forward developing your master roadmap. Instead of approaching it as one massive change that may feel overwhelming, break the process down into multiple phases so it’s digestible for everyone involved. 

Creating a master communication plan with phase titles, objectives, responsible team members and estimated timelines will help to establish expectations from the start. Remember that employees are usually wary about disruptions to their regular routines. Spend the necessary time listening to the concerns of employees and supervisors and clearly explain how the change will make their lives better. 

Don’t expect to win their respect or approval overnight. Brace for resistance from the people who will eventually benefit from your long-term vision by handling these delicate conversations with patience and grace.

Thoroughly consider all variables for each phase and be thoughtful when delegating responsibilities. Especially in complex change management processes with multiple lengthy phases, it’s wise to be patient and expect that unexpected complications will probably arise. We recommend being conservative with time estimates here -- especially in preliminary phases such as training and rehearsals.

Here are a few phases that the project management team for the mobile banking app help feature might consider:

  • Conduct customer survey about common questions and concerns that they have around mobile banking
  • Interview customer service team to better understand their current workflows
  • Set up a collaborative cutover platform to manage all project communications
  • Train all team members to use the cutover platform
  • Build task teams and delegate responsibilities 
  • Provide specialized trainings for each project team so they feel confident executing their tasks

When you think your change management roadmap is done, take a step back and approach it with a fresh perspective and birdseye view. Ask yourself:

  • What unanticipated complications could arise?
  • Is our timeline realistic?
  • Are all participants capable of performing their roles?
  • What will we do if ______ happens?
  • Who is responsible for responding if ______ happens?

By evaluating all possible (even highly unlikely) scenarios before getting beyond the planning stage, you will be more equipped to overcome unexpected roadblocks.

  • Provide relevant training and demonstrate value

Especially when making an upgrade that takes your company into uncharted territory, people will need to be trained. Change management team members need to develop the skills, knowledge and behaviors necessary to successfully implement the change.

The training phase is the opportune time to slow down and ensure everybody is on the same page. If one team isn’t clear on their responsibilities, it can cause avoidable disruptions during dress rehearsals or even the change event itself. 

Build custom trainings that serve the needs of all project participants. Encourage them to ask questions. Design quizzes to check for understanding. Harness your inner teacher and empower participants with the expertise necessary to excel on the big day.

  • Run dress rehearsals

Once all team members have been trained, it’s time to do some test runs. We recommend dividing a first round of dress rehearsals into several independent phases. 

Multiple preliminary rehearsals can be run simultaneously and dependencies can be simulated to save time. This will allow each team to work out their own kinks before running a comprehensive all-hands-on-deck rehearsal from start to finish.

The final dress rehearsal should include the entire team -- starting from the beginning. Focus on the phase transitions here and consider possible issues that may arise. Try your best to stick to the predetermined schedule, but remember that it is still just a rehearsal. It’s not the end of the world if things don’t go perfectly! Learn from any mishaps so you’re as prepared as possible for the actual change event.

Managing risk can be a delicate process. How do you know when the team is amply prepared? Multiple rounds of dress rehearsals may seem tedious and unnecessary, but being over-prepared is usually for the best. 

When the stakes are high and the company has already invested substantial resources into the project, err on the side of caution and run that extra test. 

  • Implement the change

You spent countless months getting approval, building your change management process, training change teams and leading rehearsals. 

Now, the big day has finally arrived. Everyone seems equipped to execute their roles. In the final stretch, lighten the mood and offer positive feedback to everyone. Show the team that you’re calm and have full confidence in them. Do final checks to make sure all communication channels are live and commence. After seemingly endless preparation, it’s finally “go time.”

Stay focused on supporting the team as they complete their tasks and document completed tasks in your change management software.

If you fall behind schedule or something doesn’t go as planned, refrain from getting angry and assigning blame in the heat of the moment. Instead, take a deep breath and proceed forward with backup contingencies that you already prepared. Even with all of your preparation, it’s normal for something not to go precisely as planned. 

In an absolute worst case scenario, you might have to abort and start again from the beginning. While you want to do everything in your power to avoid that scenario, it’s not the end of the world. Keep the team focused and morale high regardless of what happens.

Remember, since you prepared so thoroughly, that this is highly improbable. The most likely scenario is that things will run seamlessly and you will reach the finish line without major complications. 

As you wrap up your successful change, make sure everything is clearly documented. Over the next several weeks, minor issues will arise and troubleshooting will be necessary. Having clear, intuitive documentation of all steps taken will make finetuning the new systems easier.

  • Solve remaining issues and provide on-going support

Send out notifications updating everyone affected by the change. Provide contact information for IT support to make the transition as seamless as possible. 

Monitor new systems extra carefully for the first several weeks. Make sure all data displays correctly and user experience flows smoothly. Have your IT support team ready to collect feedback and troubleshoot problems. 

Remember that people may initially be frustrated by the transition. Validate their concerns and patiently show them how to use the new tools effectively. It may not happen overnight, but as “the new system” becomes “the current system,” people will warm up to it and realize that they’re reaping the benefits.

Minor issues may still come up, but at this point, it’s time to celebrate your successful implementation!

  • Celebrate successful implementation

Only you and your team truly understand how much work went into the change management process. Commend them for all their work and take some time to celebrate your accomplishment -- it’s a big deal! 

Recognize individual contributors and groups that performed exceptionally well. Be liberal with your positive feedback. It will make your team feel appreciated and encourage them to take pride in their contributions. They will take more ownership in the change and be motivated to push company-wide adoption forward.

  • Reflect on processes and apply lessons to future changes

In the months following the change, it’s wise to spend some time reflecting on your overall change management process. Stand back from the entire process, evaluate your successes and failures, and identify areas of improvement for next time. Reflect on some key questions about your change:

  • What went well?
  • What could we improve next time?
  • Were there unforeseen challenges that we should be better prepared for next time?
  • Did we maximize the full capabilities of change management software?
  • How effective were our communication channels?
  • Did we provide quality training for all participants?
  • How can we improve our dress rehearsals?
  • Which team members deserve more responsibility next time? 
  • What processes could improve the actual change event?
  • How can we collect feedback more efficiently?

For all successful companies, change is an ongoing, constant process. The only certainty when it comes to change is that there will be a next time. Doing thorough reflection will illuminate valuable lessons that will serve you well on your next major change. 

Committing to continuous improvement in change management processes will lead to better communications, more efficient changes, and ultimately, a healthier, more successful business.

If you’re ready to get started developing your next big change management process, get in touch with us. Our team of change management experts are available to help you jumpstart your planned change strategy so your next cutover will feel like a breeze.

Topics:Planned Change


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