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Tailor-made change management

Catherine Smithson
March 15, 2013

By standardising change management, change managers can build strong capabilities in using a consistent approach, develop a community of practice to share learnings, integrate with project management and best of all, make it easier for sponsors and managers to perform their roles without confusion or gaining a Masters in change management.

Today, the majority of organisations worldwide use a structured approach to change management, according to Prosci. But there is a downside of this standardisation. The risk is that change managers also standardise change management practices or activities and embed them into the change methodology.
While this may seem logical and efficient, it doesn’t work because each change is unique and presents different challenges with different groups in the organisation. To be effective, change management activities need to be built as part of an overall change management strategy tailored to each change.

Creating an effective strategy

Different change management methodologies will approach this differently. In this discussion, I will draw on the approach in the Prosci Change Management Process, which is fast becoming the standard for change management internationally.
The guiding principle is that each change is unique and presents distinct challenges and opportunities. Even the same change implemented across the organisation will have a different impact and may be received differently. Therefore, the foundation of an effective change management strategy is performing the following steps:

  1. Identify the groups impacted by the change: Who is impacted, by job role, function, level, and location?
  2. Assess the readiness of each group for the change: Are people ready for the change or resistant? How do each group’s distinct values, history and culture impact their readiness to change?
  3. Assess the impact of the change on each group: How is each group impacted? Is it incremental or radical change? Which aspects of people’s jobs will change?

As an example, in a professional services firm I worked with recently, the people impacted most by the change were the consultants, the fee earners. They would have to learn a new system for managing documents and give up their individual methods.

The readiness for the change varied dramatically across the company. One business unit was so keen it wanted to be the pilot. At the other end of the spectrum, another business unit perceived the change as ‘head office bureaucracy’ and was resistant to the project.

By performing these assessments and involving the steering committee, the change manager developed a strategy that resulted in targeted change management activities for each group that were very successful. A ‘one size fits all’ change management approach that treated all groups the same would have been ineffective and may have even increased resistance.

Other key elements of a change management strategy, using the Prosci Change Management Process are:

  • Selecting a change management model: the structure, reporting lines, selection and training of change managers,
  • Selecting a sponsorship model: structure and reporting for the sponsor, steering committee, business owners, project management and change management.
  • Assessing the project risks: is this a high, medium or low risk change from the people side?
  • Anticipating resistance and developing special tactics: a proactive approach to resistance.

Strategy is only useful when it turns into action, so the outputs from these assessments and models are translated into targeted, tailored, change management plans, that will educate, engage and equip everyone in the organisation to successfully make the change.

It’s results that count in change management, as well as project management, so let’s close with a final quote from a master of strategy, Sir Winston Churchill: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

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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.
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