Customer Experience and Customer Support

Change Management Process: The 2021 Guide

In work — as in life — the only constant is change... so why are we so bad at it? After all, you’re smart and surrounded by very capable people. So, why is it never enough to just give people information on why a change is needed and how to make it?
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Whether you’re planning something as small as a new app rollout or as significant as a complete restructuring, having an effective change management process in place is a must. But don’t worry, we have everything you need to know to be an effective change agent for any new solution.

What is change management?

Change management is fundamentally about successfully guiding people through a behavior change. It’s easy to get bogged down in business jargon when we talk about organizational change (“We have this new tool and we need to successfully deploy it by EOW to meet our Q4 OKRs!”), but the human factor is at the core of all change. If old habits die hard, any change management strategy has to fully account for those who will be impacted by the update, or it will fail.

Why is a change management process important? 

We’ve all seen the outcomes of poorly managed change: low adoption, fear, anxiety, and falling back on old habits. After a series of failed changes, people eventually stop trusting that any change will be successful, then stop even trying to effect change — at which point a business ceases to be competitive, and stagnates. Having an effective change management process in place is a risk mitigator and enables organizations to sidestep this stagnation cycle altogether.

The first step in a good change management process is knowing the why behind the change, and then following it up with clear communication and an incentive to change. After all, not getting buy-in is one of the main ways change management processes fail, but it’s not the only one. Get a deep dive into why change management efforts fail.

Top reasons changes go wrong

  • The reason behind the change is poorly understood or communicated
  • Leadership doesn’t buy in
  • The right stakeholders aren’t part of the process
  • Implementation isn’t well thought out
  • There’s a lack of short or long-term follow-through
  • The process is led without empathy
When you’re definitely doing change management the right way

Top organizational change management risks

  • Employee confusion, stress, and burnout
  • Lack of faith that changes will have a successful outcome leading to a high organizational resistance to change
  • A seemingly “chaotic” workplace
  • High employee turnover leading to loss of institutional knowledge
  • Projects put on hold or abandoned altogether
  • Poor customer satisfaction leading to negative brand associations
  • Lower overall business efficiency
Seems like it all worked out perfectly

What are the five steps of change management? 

In order to set your organization down the path of successful change (and mitigate potential risks), there are five major steps to take. 

  1. Prepare for change

When we think about prep, we tend to think about logistics and solutions (which are important), but an underrated aspect of the preparation process is looking at how a change can be supported by behavior and culture. Help employees and leadership understand where the problems are before introducing a new solution; actively solicit feedback on the current state of things and use it to inform how you communicate your upcoming change and identify who needs to be a stakeholder.

  1. Make a change management plan and communicate the strategy and vision

Now that you understand how to position your change for broader organizational buy-in, you’re ready to determine the scope, craft a rollout plan, pull in the right stakeholders, and determine how you’ll measure success. It’s also important that you share the why behind the change as part of your buy-in process as you present the plan to different constituencies within the company, and speak to how it will impact each one individually.

  1. Implement the organizational change

Next, get your project off the ground. Follow the action plan you’ve laid out, but make sure to solicit feedback at every step to see if you need to make adjustments as you go. Not only can this mitigate longer-term failure, but it can also help maintain buy-in as employees see their needs addressed and integrated as you hit milestones.

  1. Integrate the change within the organizational culture and processes

You finished the change rollout and everything is going great — for about 6 weeks. How do you keep people from reverting to old habits and undoing all of your team’s great work? Reinforce the behavior change through incentives, documentation, ongoing communication, and, perhaps most importantly, visible ideal state modeling by leadership.

  1. Review the change impact

It’s time to review the success of your change. Look back at the key performance indicators you assigned before the rollout (before/after snapshots are very helpful), and run a post-mortem to get a holistic view of how the process went, and how “sticky” it’s been.

Change management process terminology

If you want to excel at change management, you’ll need to learn the lingo. Here’s a quick cheat sheet.

Change management model

A change management model is a pre-built structure (informed by a lot of real-world experimentation) for crafting an effective change management process within a company. Common models are ADKAR, Lewin’s, Kotter’s, McKinsey’s, and Kübler-Ross’s.

Change management process

A change management process is the end-to-end implementation of a change within an organization.

Change management plan

A change management plan is the specific way change is effected within the larger process. Here is our expert guide to writing yours.

How to create an effective change management process for your organization

Now that you know how to run a smooth change management process, you might be wondering what steps you need to take to create that process in the first place. Here’s what you need to do:

Identify the desired change and goals

Change for change’s sake isn’t helpful to anyone. Step one is to figure out exactly what needs to change, and why. Not only does this clarify things like scope and timeline, it also helps you identify who needs to be involved and at what level.

Involve key stakeholders and present the business case

Having the right stakeholders involved is key. After all, they’re going to be the ones helping you properly implement change! They need to be bought in before anyone else and can help you identify the best way to prepare the organization for what’s coming.

Plan for change

Here’s where you want to document what your key performance indicators will be throughout the change process. You’ll want to grab snapshots of your current state in order to judge success at pre-identified progress points (as well as after the process is complete).

Determine resources and measurements of success

What do you need to effectively implement the change? What do you want the future state to look like? Be as granular as possible in determining success metrics.

Provide clear communication from start to finish

No one likes being in the dark! Make sure your process, checkpoints, and metrics for success are visible to everyone who’ll be affected — and frequently solicit feedback, so that you can...

Manage resistance and improve the impact of the change

Again, change is hard. Making sure people feel heard can help you reduce resistance levels and make the process easier to undertake. Additionally, occasional reminders of the why behind the change and how it will benefit those affected can keep everyone working toward a common goal.

Recognize the change management project’s success

At the end of the process (or, better yet, at each big milestone) celebrate what you and your team have accomplished. Positive feedback makes any future plans for change that much easier to buy into.

Review impact and improve your change management process for the future

Recognize that there’s always room for improvement. It’s called a process for a reason. What worked for you years ago might need to be completely overhauled now that you have a new team/organization/product. Take what you’ve learned and adapt.

How to ensure you have the right change management tools

Review your change management toolkit

Equip yourself for change management success by using the right tools for the job. Here are some of the best solutions:

Change management need

Top change management tools

Ensure all guidelines are kept up-to-date and accurate Guru
Document updates to internal policies and procedures Guru
Confluence
Internal wiki or intranet
Create and share process diagrams across the team Lucidchart
Miro
Whimsical
Share communications with stakeholders Slack
Microsoft Teams
Zoom
Google Drive
Guru
Confirm each member of the team has read each update Guru


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