The rise of the change manager

Catherine Smithson
July 25, 2011

The increased volume, pace and complexity of change has produced a new profession: the Change Manager. We’ve also seen the emergence of new professional bodies like the Change Management Institute (founded in Australia and now established internationally), the Association of Change Management Professionals, accreditation programs, international and local conferences, as well as university degrees and diplomas and endorsement of programs by project management professional bodies.

If you’ve tried to hire a change manager lately, you’ve probably also noticed that recruiters and candidates are also perplexed about the capabilities and experience required to be an effective change manager.

In 2011, change management has expanded beyond communications and training and being just one element of the project plan. In today’s complex environment, they are simply not enough to drive successful, sustained change.

Prosci, the world’s leading change management research and publishing company, gives this definition of change management: “The processes, tools and techniques to manage the people-side of change to achieve the required business outcome.”

This definition is a useful one, firstly because it focuses change management on the people-side of change: getting people ready, willing and able to work successfully in the future state. Strong project management approaches that concentrate on a quality, on time, on budget and fit-for-purpose solution (or the ‘technical’ side of change) are a critical partner for this work.

Many project managers and BPI specialists, including Lean Six Sigma practitioners, view change management as part of their role. But I think it is fair to say change management usually doesn’t get the resourcing or focus required when it is one of many deliverables from an already busy project manager. And vice versa.

The other key part of this definition is the emphasis on achieving the required business outcomes. It isn’t enough to create a great communications plan, or to engage people or enthuse them; change management needs to play its role in achieving the goals of the change. Change managers, like project professionals, need to have business acumen and focus.

Change managers are planners, facilitators, coaches, enablers but I don’t believe they are effective as the ‘face and voice’ of the change. We promote the idea that the change manager is a ‘back stage’ person, coaching the change leaders of the organisation, that is, the sponsor or CEO, senior executives, middle managers and team leaders, who make the change a reality in their teams.

Decades of research, by Prosci, TJ and Sandar Larkin and many others, tell us that employees prefer to hear about change from their direct manager and from senior executives. Leadership is the number one success factor for change, according to Prosci’s most recent Best Practices in Change Management Benchmarking report, as well as studies by IBM and many others.

The challenge of the next few years will be the true alignment of project and change management and the continued building of capabilities of project and change teams and business leaders all with the one true aim of demonstrating achievement of business outcomes, but not at the expense of an organisation’s people.

Author avatar
Catherine Smithson
Catherine Smithson is a leading facilitator, educator and consultant in change and leadership. She has 20 years’ experience as a senior manager and a consultant and has an in-depth understanding of best practices worldwide. She is the managing director of Being Human.
Read more