An A – Z of Organizational Change Management
Please get ready to learn a lot about organizational change management (sometimes abbreviated to OCM). And quickly. The first point I need to make about organizational change management is that it’s nothing to do with the ITIL change management process (now called “change control” in ITIL 4). Instead, organizational change management focuses on the people within an organization and is a methodology to optimally manage how big changes (to just about anything) affect them. This might be changes to the structure of the organization, a new business process, or the introduction of a new business tool to name just a few. And – stop the presses – organizational change management is one of the new general management practices in ITIL 4.
To offer up more detail on organizational change management, and its relevance to IT service management (ITSM), here’s another of my A – Z posts to explain what it’s all about and how it should be approached.
Because organizational change management is all about the people (within an organization, although it could easily involve third parties too), one of the key points to note is the need to ensure that the audience is involved (in the impending change). For instance, the audience could be end users – the people within the organization that will be using a new self-service facility, say.
For organizational change management to work, all the affected people should be involved from the very beginning, and not only those that will be directly affected by the change but representation of everyone that might be impacted.
Importantly, audience involvement is not only the telling people about the change but also listening to their feedback – especially to their concerns and their ideas. Here, involving people throughout the change also makes them feel “part of the process” such that they’re more likely to want to see the change(s) succeed.
People generally don’t like change. It should be treated as a given, no matter the change-type being considered. There are a number of reasons for this, let’s call them “blockers,” and part of the organizational change management “process” is to understand those blockers and to work to remove them.
Blockers can include: a lack of understanding, not seeing the benefits of the change, or not being sufficiently prepared for what’s to come. Along with many other very-human issues and concerns.
Ultimately, to get people on board, their concerns must be addressed throughout the change and then after implementation.
A lack of communication will sadly result in blockers not being addressed and people not being involved. This is essentially a recipe for failure whatever change an organization might be facing.
Communication is probably the most important aspect of organizational change management and needs to be treated as such. And it’s important to understand that the way an organization communicates will need to be adapted to suit different audiences. For instance, a blanket communication approach rarely works for larger changes. Therefore, communication should be personalized and open, to allow people to feel empowered to respond with their concerns and feedback.
Design the organization
Organizational change management is more than just preparing people each time there’s a big change to address. It goes deeper than this, it’s really a core part of the organizational culture.
For organizational change management to truly be effective, organizations should be designed to be flexible, to adapt, and to expect change. It’s also important to create an environment where everybody is “in this together,” rather than one that divides management and workers, in order to reduce resistance and to encourage collaboration.
Organizational change management recognizes that people must be educated about the change before it happens. This education includes letting people know that a change is coming, what it means for them, and ensuring that people are trained and ready to adapt to the new way of working. For example, if a new ITSM tool is introduced, the people who need to use the tool must be trained (in the tool’s use) before the tool goes live.
Fear of the unknown
Many people don’t like change. And one of the biggest reasons for this is “the fear of the unknown.” Even when a change will benefit people it can still be viewed negatively simply because people don’t know how it will really play out.
Throughout life, people will often stick with the status quo even when they don’t love it because it’s preferable to stepping into the unknown. This is why, with organizational change management, communication, involvement, and education are vital.
When people understand the benefits (of change), feel like they have a say, and know what’s expected of them, they’re far more likely to embrace a change because they know what to expect (and there’s thus less unknown to fear).
Organizational change management looks at generating interest among people within the organization. When you pique a person’s interest, that person will want to know more and will be keen to get involved.
Organizations can do this by advising people of the benefits of the change – where answering the “What’s in it for me?” question is the key to delivering changes effectively. Ultimately, when people realize what they’ll get out of a change – for instance, reduced workload, quicker service, easier process management – they’ll be happier to support the change.
Organizational change management is all about the people. I guess you’ve got that by now, but I’ll keep on saying it because they’re truly what this capability is all about.
A human-centered approach to organizational changes will help to create an environment where changes are not feared and resisted, but instead expected and even welcomed. Organizational change management understands the psychological complexities involved in making changes within groups and focuses on how to deliver the best outcomes by putting the organization’s people at the center of each decision.
Sadly, every organizational or technology change failure that I’ve witnessed, in my career to date, has been the result of forcing changes onto staff with little care taken for how the individuals feel.
It’s likely that the first time a change is implemented there’ll be some teething problems. This is to be expected with any big change and should therefore be planned for.
Operating an agreed and supported improvement process can help organizations to quickly address any issues that arise, during change, rather than letting them spiral out of control.
It’s important to let people know that there’s an improvement process in place and what will be done should the change not work out. This can help to reduce people’s fear of the change and is a necessary step in removing those blockers I previously mentioned.
Just-in-time feedback is about providing feedback to people “in the moment” rather than waiting for what feels like the right time (say, during their personal reviews). It works well when implementing large changes because it allows people to immediately understand the impact of their actions and to adjust their behavior rather than allowing bad habits to form.
Often, waiting to give people feedback can dilute the comments – making them less meaningful, which in turn results in a smaller impact. By waiting, bad behaviors become harder to change and those who do good can feel like it hasn’t been recognized.
So, reward people for following “the new way” and show that there are consequences for those who don’t. This helps to make new changes become the norm much quicker.
Knickers in a twist
This humorous English phrase (or the US equivalent of: “Don’t get your shorts in a knot”) is what happens when changes are delivered without involving people and without communication.
In such scenarios , everybody gets their knickers in a twist, rumors fly around the office, and before you know it you’re dealing with utter mayhem. Following organizational change management procedures can ultimately save a lot of time and a lot of hassle.
Knowledge (about the change)
To deliver change successfully, organizations must make sure that everyone is informed about the upcoming change – explaining why it’s happening, when, what for, and how it will be delivered.
The people delivering the change must know why the change is necessary and how it aligns to the goals of the business in order to gain buy-in from key stakeholders and the affected people. Without this knowledge it will be difficult to convince people that the change is needed, and it will be hard work to answer people’s concerns.
Organizational change requires strong and committed leaders to be at the helm.
Leading through change is a challenge for anyone, but weak-willed and non-committal leadership teams will likely fail before they even get started. There’ll be resistance and there’ll be concerns – so leaders need to be confident and believe in the changes in order to get their people on board.
Measure the change
Organizational change management doesn’t stop once a change has been implemented. Organizations should document what went well, what didn’t work, what lessons were learned, and what further support is required for all of the affected people. Plus, was the improvement process needed and did it work as intended? And feedback should be encouraged until the change is embedded and becomes the norm.
Measuring change efficiency and effectiveness allows organizations to collect valuable data which can then help them to continually improve their organizational change management capabilities as they move forward.
It may sound like an oxymoron, but organizations should look to normalize change. When an act becomes normal, it’s something that’s expected and acceptable.
So, normalizing change means less resistance and less negativity – resulting in easier change implementation. Normalizing change sits in the very culture of the organization – and an organization that’s designed to deal with change will usually succeed.
Before anything begins (in terms of change), the objectives of the change must be clearly defined, understood, and communicated.
When organizations don’t have a clear picture of the change objectives, they tend to lose focus, making it harder to address concerns and communicate why the change is necessary. These objectives should consider the goals of the organization and show the path as to how they’ll be achieved.
Because some change can significantly affect people, it’s important to take everything to a personal level to gain buy-in.
Each person affected by a serious change should have the opportunity to speak in a one-to-one setting with the leaders of the change. When people feel like they’re cared for, and that their opinions matter, they’re more likely to commit to the change and want to see it succeed.
Quality change delivery
Following an organizational change management process means that changes are more likely to be successful. High-quality change delivery is nigh on impossible if an organization doesn’t think about its people, the risks, and the ramifications.
Organizational change management helps businesses to reduce common change risks, such as resentment from staff which can then lead to poor behaviors or even resignations.
When people are involved, and communicated to, throughout the change it makes it harder for rumors to develop which are often the cause of resentment (and potentially fear and even chaos). And, if people feel like they’re being treated fairly, they’ll be happier with the change taking place.
Sell the change
Organizations that want their people to accommodate and adapt to change need to sell the change to their people.
People don’t really care about how the organization will benefit from the change, they care most about how they’ll benefit from – or be adversely affected by – the change. Will it save them time, reduce their workload, or make their life easier in some way? That’s the sell, it’s what gets people to commit.
Transitions are smooth
Organizational change management ensures that transitions are smooth by consulting the affected people before, during, and after the change implementation.
Gathering requirements from workers is a vital step in designing an effective solution, and gaining their feedback is necessary for continual improvement. Whereas, a bumpy ride is almost guaranteed if an organization doesn’t consult its people – which will result in lost time, money, and, most importantly, trust from staff.
Understand the impact
Before implementing a change, an organization must understand the impact it will have on its people and the business itself. This is so it’s able to communicate effectively, manage resistance, and prepare people thoroughly.
Without a clear understanding of the impact it will be difficult to sell the change. Plus, it will leave the organization open to unmanaged risks and the unwanted consequences.
Organizational change management is a valuable capability for companies to have. By showing care and consideration to staff, organizations are much less likely to endure failed or suboptimal changes, or to lose disenfranchised employees which can be a costly outcome.
They’re also more likely to gain commitment to the change, rather than people demonstrating signs of resistance or reverting to the old way of doing things – issues that result in lost time and effort.
For change to be successful there absolutely must be willing people on board. Following organizational change management good practices – such as communicating thoroughly, involving people, selling the change, and being clear on objectives – helps organizations to turn their people from resisters into the willing participants of change.
X (a big red X)
OK, you know I usually need to cheat with X.
This is what organizations will see when they fail to implement changes successfully.
To see a big green tick instead, is just a case of following organizational change management best practice. Sadly, there’s no guarantee, but it strongly puts the odds in your favor. And your people will thank you for it.
It’s what commonly prevents change succeeding and what organizational change management is all about. Please look after your people, because without them your future organizational changes might just sink.
Surely this is just a minor cheat on my part.
Some organizations treat their people like they’ve no brains and only exist to work for the business. But people aren’t zombies – they do have brains, they do have feelings, and they should be respected.
Organizational change management, conducted well, reflects the latter rather than the former and will motivate staff as well as helping them to be committed to a change. So, don’t start a zombie nation, instead start and maintain a tribe of happy, fulfilled people.
So that’s my A – Z of organizational change management. What would you add? What would you lose? Please let me know in the comments.
Posted by Joe the IT Guy