Change management is a structured approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state. It is an organizational process aimed at empowering employees to accept and embrace changes in their current business environment.. In project management, change management refers to a project management process where changes to a project are formally introduced and approved.
Examples of Organizational Change
As a multidisciplinary practice, Organizational Change Management requires for example: creative marketing to enable communication between change audiences, but also deep social understanding about leadership’s styles and group dynamics. As a visible track on transformation projects, Organizational Change Management aligns groups’ expectations, communicates, integrates teams and manages people training. It makes use of metrics, such as leader’s commitment, communication effectiveness, and the perceived need for change to design accurate strategies, in order to avoid change failures or solve troubled change projects. An effective change management plan needs to address all above mentioned dimensions of change. This can be achieved in following ways:
This is a bit of fun and a lot of serious. It is surprising how many animals you can spot in change. Using animals is an entertaining and useful metaphor that you can use in many situations to break the ice and tell home truths.
Here are some of the animals in my zoo. I’ve met all of these along the way in the change work I’ve done.
The ostrich famously puts its head in the sand when faced with danger. Like a small child, they work on the principle that if they cannot see the predator then the predator cannot see them. This does not seem to be a very good survival strategy. Fortunately, the ostrich also has long legs and can run away very fast.
Moles are dark and difficult to see. They burrow underground and are hard to find. Then they pop up when you think everything has been completed and the change is complete. They make a horrible mess of things and are very destructive.
Tigers fight tooth and claw all the way. They are powerful — or at least that is what they want you to believe. Hurt them only a little and they will seek to hurt you a whole lot more. Their message is this: mess with me at your peril. Go make your change elsewhere little person.
Dogs know that, although they are not bad fighters by themselves, they are far more powerful in a pack. They seek one another out and attack en masse. They are not fearless but know that together they create even more fear. They will fight dirty and nip at you until you are down and then rip you apart.
Owls are wise and knowledgeable people. They sit up on their branches in their tree, pontificating and pointing down at the trivial world below. The know better than you and are not slow to point this out, as well as pointing out all the little faults in your change project (which is, of course, somewhat below them).
Well, you knoow, those old snails, they just go soo slooww. They creep along at, well, a snail’s pace and hope that you will leave them to their own devices. Ho hum. See you then.
When resistance to change occurs, then it is very helpful to be able to spot it coming and hence respond appropriately to it (rather than be surprised when the change mysteriously fails).
If you can catch resistance early, then you can respond to it before it takes hold, effectively nipping it in the bud.
When the change is announced, the tom-toms will start beating loudly and grapevine will bear fruit of much and varied opinion. Keep your ear to the ground on what is being said around the coffee points. Listen particularly for declaration of intent and attempts to organize resistance.
Grumbling and complaint are natural ways of airing discomfort, so you should not try to squash it (you would fail, anyway). The biggest danger of it is when it is allowed to ferment in an information vacuum.
Respond to gossip by opening it up, showing you are listening to concerns and taking them seriously, and providing lots of valid information that will fill the vacuum.
Just as a high school class will test a teacher’s ability to maintain discipline, so also will some brave soul test out what happens when they resist change. They may, for example, not turn up to a meeting or openly challenge a decision.
How you deal with such early resistance will have a significant effect on what happens next. For example you can jump on the person and squash both them and their words, or you can take an adult position, describing what they have done and assertively questioning their motives.
Resistance can happen both on an individual case-by-case basis or people may band together.
Individually, people may resist, although this is generally limited to the extent of their personal power. For those with lower power, this may include passive refusals and covert action. For those with more power, it can include open challenge and criticism.
Handle individual action individually, starting with those with greater power. As necessary, you may need to make an example, and disciplining a senior executive can send a strong signal to other resistors.
When people find a common voice in organized resistance, then their words and actions can create a significant threat to the change, even though they are individually less powerful. Trade Unions are a classic example of this.
Organized resistance is usually a sign of a deep divide. People will not go to the bother of organizing unless they have serious issues with the change.
Manage collectives by negotiating with their leaders (which can be much easier than dealing with a myriad of smaller fires). You may well need to make concessions, but you at least should be able to rescue some key elements of the change. You can also ‘divide and conquer’ by striking deals with individual key players, although this must be done very carefully as it can cause a serious backlash.
Sometimes resistance is out in the open, but more often it starts out in a more underhand, covert way.
Covert resistance is deliberate resistance to change, but done in a manner that allows the perpetrators to appear as if they are not resisting. This may occur, for example, through sabotage of various kinds.
Handle covert resistance by showing that you know what is happening and setting in place investigations designed to identify the people responsible.
Overt resistance does not try to hide, and is a result either of someone comfortable with their power, someone for whom covert acts are against their values, or someone who is desperate. This may take forms such as open argument, refusal or attack.
Deal with overt resistance by first seeking to respond openly and authentically. If the resistance is blind, then you will have no alternative but to defend, for example by isolating and disciplining attackers.
Overt resistance does not need to take positive action — sometimes it can be passive.
Passive resistance occurs where people do not take specific actions. At meetings, they will sit quietly and may appear to agree with the change. Their main tool is to refuse to collaborate with the change. In passive aggression, for example, they may agree and then do nothing to fulfill their commitments.
This can be very difficult to address, as resisters have not particularly done anything wrong. One way to address this is to get public commitment to an action (and you can start small on this), then follow up — publicly if necessary — to ensure they complete the action. Then keep repeating this until they are either bought in or give in.
Active resistance occurs where people are taking specific and deliberate action to resist the change. It may be overt, with such as public statements and acts of resistance, and it may be covert, such as mobilizing others to create an underground resistance movement.
Overt active resistance, although potentially damaging, is at least visible and you have the option of using formal disciplinary actions (although more positive methods should normally be used first). When it is covert, you may also need to use to covert methods to identify the source and hence take appropriate action.
Here is a small raft of things you can do to handle resistance, starting with kind and moral approaches and ending with the harsher end of gaining compliance. This whole site has fleets other things you can do, of course.
The best approach to creating change is to work with them, helping them achieve goals that somehow also reach to the goals of the change project. When you work with people, they will be happier to work with you.
This is a good practice when people want to collaborate but are struggling to adjust to the situation and achieve the goals of change.
When people are not really bought into the rationale for the change, they may well come around once they realize why the change is needed and what is needed of them. In particular, if new skills are required, you can provide these via a focused course of education.
When people are not involved physically or intellectually, they are unlikely to be involved emotionally either. One of the best methods of getting people bought in is to get them involved. When their hands are dirty, they realize that dirt is not so bad, after all. They also need to justify their involvement to themselves and so persuade themselves that is the right thing to do.
When the other person cannot easily be persuaded, then you may need to give in order to get. Sit them down and ask what they are seeking. Find out what they want and what they will never accept. Work out a mutually agreeable solution that works just for them and just for you.
Manipulation means controlling a person’s environment such that they are shaped by what is around them. It can be a tempting solution, but is morally questionable and, if they sense what you are doing, will lead to a very dangerous backlash. Only consider this when change is necessary in the short term and all other avenues have been explored.
Even more extreme than subtle manipulation is overt coercion. This is where you sit them down and make overt threats, for example that if they do not comply that they will lose their jobs, perhaps in a humiliating and public sacking. This should only be used when speed is of the essence or when the other person themselves has taken to public and damaging actions.
In the early 20th century, psychologist Kurt Lewin identified three stages of change that are still the basis of many approaches today.
A basic tendency of people is to seek a context in which they have relative safety and feel a sense of control. In establishing themselves, they attach their sense of identity to their environment. This creates a comfortable stasis from which any alternatives, even those which may offer significant benefit, will cause discomfort.
Talking about the future thus is seldom enough to move them from this ‘frozen’ state and significant effort may be required to ‘unfreeze’ them and get them moving. This usually requires Push methods to get them moving, after which Pull methods can be used to keep them going.
The term ‘change ready’ is often used to describe people who are unfrozen and ready to take the next step. Some people come ready for change whilst others take a long time to let go of their comfortable current realities.
See also: Unfreezing techniques
A key part of Lewin’s model is the notion that change, even at the psychological level, is a journey rather than a simple step. This journey may not be that simple and the person may need to go through several stages of misunderstanding before they get to the other side.
A classic trap in change is for the leaders to spend months on their own personal journeys and then expect everyone else to cross the chasm in a single bound.
Transitioning thus requires time. Leadership is often important and when whole organizations change, the one-eyed person may be king. Some form of coaching, counseling or other psychological support will often be very helpful also.
Although transition may be hard for the individual, often the hardest part is to start. Even when a person is unfrozen and ready for change, that first step can be very scary.
Transition can also be a pleasant trap and, as Robert Louis Stephenson said, ‘It is better to travel hopefully than arrive.’ People become comfortable in temporary situations where they are not accountable for the hazards of normal work and where talking about change may be substituted for real action.
At the other end of the journey, the final goal is to ‘refreeze’, putting down roots again and establishing the new place of stability.
In practice, refreezing may be a slow process as transitions seldom stop cleanly, but go more in fits and starts with a long tail of bits and pieces. There are good and bad things about this. In modern organizations, this stage is often rather tentative as the next change may well be around the next corner. What is often encouraged, then, is more of a state of ‘slushiness’ where freezing is never really achieved (theoretically making the next unfreezing easier). The danger with this that many organizations have found is that people fall into a state of change shock, where they work at a low level of efficiency and effectiveness as they await the next change. ‘It’s not worth it’ is a common phrase when asked to improve what they do.