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How to Implement a Change Management Process That Works

Madeline Jacobson
9 mins
steps to change management

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.” David Bowie knew it, we know it, and you know it. Change is hard. But it can also mean progress, new technology, business growth, and increased productivity. In the workplace, demonstrating the positives associated with a change (and being transparent about the challenges involved in implementing that change) is essential to getting team members on board and ensuring they don’t slide back into old habits. And that means putting together a change management process.

What Is a Change Management Process?

A change management process consists of steps to lead a team or organization from a current state to a new desired state. You might use a change management process when introducing new technology, restructuring the organization, or going through a rebrand, just to name a few examples.

It involves arming employees who will be impacted by the proposed change with the tools and skills they need to succeed. It also requires setting expectations and making sure everyone understands their role and responsibilities in the change.

Here are just a few ways change management can help you meet your goals:

  • Increase employee engagement and decrease frustration with changes to your operations and technology
  • Align organizational practices with constantly evolving company values
  • Ensure your employees’ feedback is incorporated and that their time is respected
  • Reduce cost and risk of change
  • Improve ROI of projects
  • Build consistency and efficiency handling change as your company grows 

Building a successful change management process that is right for your business might be a little more complicated than you think, but it’s still very achievable. Organizational psychologist Nick Tasler likens completing a change management project to running a marathon: it requires significant effort, but the good news is “that most people who commit to a change initiative will eventually succeed.” 

We’re here to help as you lace up your shoes for this metaphorical marathon. Follow these eight basic steps of a successful change management process to maximize the ROI of the changes you make within your organization.

8 Steps of a Successful Change Management Process

1. Define the Change

Change in the workplace must be taken seriously. Successfully implementing a change management process requires time, resources, and lots of careful planning. So before you set out with grand ambitions to completely revolutionize the daily operations of your office for the fun of it, sit down and define the change. 

You and your change management team should start by answering the following questions:

  • What is the problem you are attempting to solve? 
  • What are the primary objectives of the change? 
  • What benefits do you expect to see from implementing the change? 
  • What are the possible negative outcomes, and how will you handle them should you encounter them? 
  • What are the human behaviors you expect to see if the change management process is implemented successfully?

If you can’t easily identify answers to these questions, you are not ready to move on to the next step of the change management process.

2. Select a Change Management Team

While securing executive buy-in is crucial to the change management process, change in the workplace should not just trickle down from the top. Executives making decisions that directly affect employees without consulting them will only leave you with a dissatisfied team who feels undervalued. Successful change must be driven from within every layer of your organization. This will help you get people across the organization invested, which makes the change 30 percent more likely to stick, according to McKinsey

Identify individuals who you believe can be champions of change across every department and level of the organization. These are often the individuals who always go above and beyond, never work just to meet the bare minimum, have a positive attitude about nearly everything they do, and are passionate about the work your company does. This team will lead the change from the ground up, avoiding a workplace bourgeoisie. Some leaders also chose to include employees who typically resist change in their change management teams. This can often be a successful strategy because if you can get your most stubborn employees on board, the rest will be sure to follow.

3. Plan and Strategize

Now for the fun stuff. You’ve identified the problem. You’ve identified the solution. You’ve considered all the pros and cons. You’ve built an all-star team of change management champions. Now it’s time to get to work. With this team, hold as many brainstorming sessions as necessary to develop an incredibly detailed, well-documented plan of exactly how you hope to bring your organization through this transition. As you build your plan, consider these components:

  • Budget: The budget for your change management initiative will need to account for resources needed to support the project team and other change agents, new technology required, and training costs.
  • Timeline: Estimate the amount of time it will take to complete each step of your change management process and set a realistic deadline.
  • Success criteria and metrics: What does success look like for your change management initiative, and how will you measure it?
  • Resistance: While you may have change management champions, you should also prepare for some resistance and determine how you will work with those resistant employees to help them move forward with the change.
  • Existing tech stack and technology needed: Consider how your existing tech stack can support your change management initiative and what technology gaps you may need to fill.
  • Communication plan: You’ll need to plan how to communicate with both stakeholders and employees throughout the change process–and how to collect and act on feedback you receive along the way.
  • Training plan: Plan training sessions for all department leaders and employees affected by the change. Keep in mind that you will likely need to tailor your training to different audiences.

There is no such thing as a strategy that is too thorough. This may be the most important step in the change management process, so take your time and don’t move on until every member of the team has full confidence in the plan.

4. Conduct a Trial Run

Whether the change you are implementing is adding new technology to your tech stack, altering your workflow, reorganizing teams, etc., you can and should conduct a trial run. The trial run should consist of your change management team and a few more selected members of every team affected. Depending on the change, the trial should run for roughly two weeks. At the end of the trial run, hold one (or several) meetings to review every component of the change. What went well? What needs improvement? What are participants’ observations, concerns, and praises? Listen to the participants and make adjustments.

5. Communicate the Purpose of Change and Train

You’ve conducted a trial run and made adjustments, but you’re still not quite ready for the big rollout. At this point in the process, only your change management team and the additional employees who participated in the trial run are truly in the loop. It’s time to make the big reveal company-wide. 

Don’t cut corners when communicating the change: the top reason that change management initiatives fail is insufficient communication

Hold a meeting to announce and explain the change you are making to the company. Grant your employees total transparency, and thoroughly explain the answers you established to the questions in step one, defining the change. What problem are you trying to solve? How will everyone’s daily work life be affected? What is the timeline for this change? Set aside ample time to answer questions as well.

Once everyone is in the loop, it’s time to train, train, train. One reason employees may resist change is because they worry a new system will challenge their competence, but thorough training can help alleviate this fear. Hold as many training sessions as necessary before the launch to ensure everyone affected by this change is on board and prepared with the skills and resources they need to tackle the challenge.

6. Roll Out the Change

Now for one of the most satisfying parts of the change management process! Launching a major change in the workplace can be daunting, so take a little bit of the edge off with a launch party. Plan a date for the launch, build excitement leading up to that date, and then celebrate. Whether it’s a pizza party, a lunch out, a happy hour, a cheese and wine day, or a game to drive buy-in and adoption, make the change something employees look forward to, and dedicate a time to get the ball rolling.

Demonstrating buy-in from the leadership team is also crucial during and after the launch. What’s to motivate your employees to actually make a change if you and your executive team aren’t doing so yourselves? Your employees need to see that you are excited. Consider having an executive sponsor do a short presentation or record a video to share during your launch event–and then make sure that you (and your sponsor) are walking the walk. For example, if you’re rolling out a new knowledge management platform, make sure you and other members of the leadership team are regularly posting content in that platform and giving shout-outs to people who share their own knowledge.

Another way to make a splash: do some internal marketing. For example, if you’re introducing a new software solution with custom branding for your organization, consider passing out branded water bottles, t-shirts, or other swag. You could also share video tutorials that provide an overview of the new software or case studies from companies that have successfully implemented a similar solution.

7. Review and Continue to Communicate

So the rollout was great…don’t stop there. Change is a continuous process, not a one-time event. Successfully implementing a major change but failing to follow up with consistent meetings, regular communication reinforcing the change, and additional training is a lot like a phenomenal first date with no callback. No one really benefits. 

For the first few months following a major workplace change, hold weekly meetings for employees to ask questions, raise concerns, and share what they like or dislike about the change. After a while (or after things seem to be going smoothly), hold meetings once a month, and so on. As changes or updates are made to the product or system, hold additional training as necessary.

It’s also a good idea to give employees a continuous way to share feedback on the platform, such as an open survey. Additionally, you can send out surveys at regular intervals (e.g. every six months) to measure the results of the change and keep a pulse on employee sentiment.

8. Determine Your Ongoing Reinforcement Plan

Change management doesn’t stop one month or even three months after a launch. Look for additional opportunities to reinforce the change. This could include sending monthly emails with important metrics, joining stakeholder team meetings to provide project updates, or even rewarding individuals exemplifying the change in their teams. No matter the strategy, employees will need to be continuously reminded of the importance until it becomes part of their day to day operations.

After the Change: 4 Tips to Prevent Employee Burnout

Without an ongoing reinforcement plan for a major change, employees may start to feel burned out and frustrated, even if the change will benefit them in the long run. Follow these four change management tips to ensure smooth and successful transitions within your organization and avoid organizational burnout:

1. Encourage Feedback (and Take It Seriously)

You hired each and every one of your team members because they are smart, capable, and bring unique skills and perspectives to the table–so make sure you take their input seriously when it comes to change. Just as you should hold a meeting prior to implementing change, continue to hold regular meetings to follow up so your team members have a better understanding of the progress that is happening. Encourage team members to share their frustrations and concerns, listen to and evaluate those concerns, and find solutions.

2. Demonstrate Empathy

Any major change in the workplace can mean significant stress for your employees (which often leads to poor performance and employee burnout). In fact, employees who have recently experienced major organizational changes are more than twice as likely to report chronic stress than those who haven’t experienced a major change. 

Having a manager who understands the burden change places on their team members and who encourages them to cope with that stress in healthy ways can not only prevent employee burnout but can also promote company loyalty and a sense of comradery during transitional periods.

Encourage your team members to take advantage of their vacation and mental health days. Although it can sometimes be hard to step away from your work, set an example by doing the same. You will be amazed by the positive results that a clear mind can bring to the workplace.

3. Reward Champions of Change

Adapting to change isn’t easy. But it’s made a little bit easier by champions of change who step up to the plate when the going gets tough. Have you noticed certain employees going above and beyond to help others adjust to a new transition, share their knowledge, and support their teammates? Publicly reward those employees with company swag, lunch with the C-Suite, kudos at your all-hands meeting, or however you see fit. The reward is not what matters: expressing genuine gratitude to your employees is.

4. Share Goals and Metrics Where Everyone Can Access Them

Change in the workplace is hard enough without having to waste countless precious hours tracking down information, instructions, and resources necessary to successfully adjust. Some technologies, such as knowledge management platforms, can enable your organization’s leaders to post directions, processes, and helpful resources to ease into new transitions, conduct surveys, ask and answer questions, and easily identify and reward champions of change. When your goals and change documentation are centralized and easy to find, your team doesn’t have to waste time searching for important information.

As your organization evolves, the technology and processes your organization relies on evolve with it. It’s easy for leaders to get so caught up in the excitement of this evolution that they forget to bring everyone on board with them. So don’t forget to pause, communicate, and effectively manage change within your organization. Your employees and your business will thank you.

This post was originally published on April 11, 2018. It was most recently updated and expanded on December 16, 2021 to incorporate new statistics and best practices.

December 16, 2021

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