Yes, All Change Requires Change Management


Your organization is changing from old PC hardware to state of the art Mac Pros. It is going to be a great leap forward in terms of technology, will cut long-term costs due to the longevity of the Mac, and the customized Mac software you had built is going to make your team’s daily activities exponentially easier. You’ve developed some great tutorials, brought in a couple demo units for users to experiment with, and arranged for the best Mac trainers in the world to provide just in time training for users on the cutover date. At this point, you might think there is no need for a change management program. This change is involuntary and besides, this change is going to be better for them! Fortunately, you are reading this before the cutover date.

At the highest level, change management is the deliberate application of a framework to address the people side of change to achieve a business outcome. This concept is most commonly written about--and applied in--situations where the change in question is, in some way, voluntary. For example, when changing a business process where the change is behavior based. However, change management is equally important in situations where the change is completely involuntary--as is the case with hardware or software migrations, when hiring a new team member, or during periods of organizational restructuring (mergers, acquisitions, etc.). During voluntary changes, the goal of change management is to get users to adopt a new behavior. For involuntary changes, the goal is the same but its necessity is often overlooked.

Image Credit: Ron Watkins, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Used with Permission.

Image Credit: Ron Watkins, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Used with Permission.

Whenever any change is announced, people experience a disruption. They lose the sense of normalcy and control that they had previously. The predictability of their day-to-day work life is gone. They aren’t hearing you when you say the Mac is going to make their work easier, more efficient, or more enjoyable. They are not checking out your tutorials. They will not be trying the demo machines. IF they attend the training sessions, they won’t be doing more than checking the box. The new hardware might be better but they aren’t an expert on the new hardware. They are an expert on the old hardware. They were doing just fine. Why do they need to change?

Phase I: Building the Case for Change

Before explaining how the change will be better for them, you have to tell them why they need to change at all. You need to communicate the business case. Communicating the business case will answer their first question; help them to move away from denial towards acceptance that the change is happening, and bring back some stability and predictability to their lives. All of these objectives are necessary to allow the user to focus on the next step in the change management process.

Okay, we’ve communicated the business case for change. Everything is good now! Change managed! Woo…

Not exactly.

Phase II: Communicating the Details and Implementing the Change

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Some people lead and some people follow. Some followers will follow one person while others wait for a consensus. The Technology Adoption Lifecycle (aka the Innovation Adoption Lifecycle) illustrates the most common distribution of the different personalities.  You cannot change a follower to a leader. What you can do is move the entire curve to a point in time where the leaders (Innovators) are engaged early enough for the followers of the followers get with the program before the cutover date and carefully apply positive reinforcement to make the curve steeper (i.e. decrease the standard deviation).

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The first step in moving the curve is the creation of a change communication plan targeted at the Early Adopters and Early Majority Adopters. Decide on the channels that will be used (e.g. all-hands meetings, email newsletters, promotional videos, signs, intranet banners, etc.) and what messages will be sent. The overarching questions that need to be answered in all of these communications are “What’s in it for me?” and “What happens next?”

As with the rest of the process, transparency is of the utmost importance. If the implementation plan hits a snag that will delay the cutover date, the delay and its cause need to be quickly and honestly transmitted throughout the organization. Remember, one of the mileposts to achieving the objective of moving the curve is the restoration of predictability. There is no such thing as too early or too frequent communication during a change process.

Next, identify the “Innovators” (aka “change leaders”) and make them the face, or “Ambassador,” for the change. The process of Ambassador identification will vary slightly every organization. As a leader, you know who these people are. (To aid the process of identifying and engaging Ambassadors, Inspirant has developed a set of Ambassador Program guidelines.) Leverage the Ambassadors and front-line managers to communicate the benefits of the change and the steps that will be taken to get there. Release the messages on your communication plan to the Ambassadors and line leaders early. Let the formal communication be an affirmation of what has already been informally communicated. This adds power to the message and increases the motivation for the Ambassadors and line leaders to actively disseminate the intended message. No one wants to be a parrot but most people do like to show that they are “in the know.” Again, transparency is key. Never contradict a message you gave to Ambassadors without first letting them know about the change and giving them a chance to pass it on. If an Ambassador ends up with egg on their face, they are not going to take that chance again and the authenticity of the messages they deliver will also be damaged going forward.

While the Ambassadors are pushing the messages, also utilize them (and any other method you have at your disposal) to gather feedback from users. If feedback indicates that there is a concern you haven’t addressed in your communication plan, it is time to make a change to the communication plan. Messages directed to calm a concern that does not manifest while letting the real worries expressed by your user base go unanswered are wasted. Furthermore, ignoring those concerns implies that this change is being made without any concern for the impacts on the end user--which makes the restoration of predictability an impossible achievement.

Continue this process of “Communicate. Listen. Adapt.” throughout the remainder of the change period. To increase the sense of urgency as the cutover approaches, the frequency of formal and informal communication should increase as the date approaches right up to the point of cutover. (This is similar to the way composers use increasing tempo and volume to instill a sense of urgency in movie soundtracks.) Then, perform the cutover.

Okay. We’ve executed our communication plan. The cutover date has passed! Change managed! Yay!!

Not exactly.

Phase III: Supporting the Change

The change management process never really ends. Leading up to the cutover, you crescendoed your communication to build urgency. Don’t just cut it off there. Slowly decrease the volume and frequency to ease your team back to normal operations. If you stop communicating, listening, and adapting at the point of the cutover, you are missing a really great opportunity. First, communicate the wins. Show that what you said was going to happen actually came to fruition. If you didn’t achieve the gains you expected, communicate why. There will be another change in the future, you don’t want people to think you made this stuff up during the run-up to the cutover. Continue to listen. If you see some FAQs or recurring stumbling blocks, communicate the answers or resolutions to the larger user base. Continue to show you are listening. Even after the final note of the change symphony has been played, you want your users to know that you care. You want them to continue to communicate great ideas. You want them to stay engaged. A well-executed change management program not only increases the adoption rate of the intended change. It can also lead to some great unintended results.


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