“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.
New technology increases convenience and makes daily tasks easier for consumers and the businesses that serve them. But change management is necessary for companies to drive adoption–and fully benefit from–new technology.
In the workplace, demonstrating the positives associated with change (and being transparent about the challenges involved in implementing it) is essential to getting team members on board and ensuring they don’t slide back into old habits. New responsibilities come with new technology and digital processes. A plan for change is essential to ensure business functions continue running smoothly.
Unfortunately, introducing new technology and changing the ways you work can lead to an initial drop in productivity and performance until employees get used to the changes. A change management process is the best way to prepare employees for new tools and processes within any organization.
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 could use a change management process when introducing new technology, restructuring the organization, or rebranding.
It involves arming employees 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 company goals and 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 in handling change as your company grows
Building a successful change management process that is right for your business may be 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. To help you prepare your organization for the changes ahead, we’ll explore why change management is important, the eight steps of a successful change management process, and tips to prevent burnout and resistance after implementing the changes.
Why Is Organizational Change Management Important?
Consider the challenges any employee faces when starting a new job. The learning curve might feel steep at first, but after learning the necessary processes and procedures, they are able to establish routines that build a sense of comfort and confidence. A shift from the norm causes apprehension, which can lead to resistance.
Although evolution is necessary to maintain ongoing success, an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality is common in most workplace environments. Regardless of the magnitude of upcoming changes, organizational change management can make the process easier to accept.
Transparent and effective change management brings about the following benefits:
- A clear understanding of the goals of the change
- Reduced anxiety by eliminating the unknown
- Greater buy-in from employees by making them part of the process
- Prevention of accidents and errors through increased knowledge sharing
- Combating resistance to change with transparent management
8 Steps of a Successful Change Management Process
The purpose of change management is to add structure to changes in tools and processes necessary for organizational evolution. The process can quickly become disjointed and confusing without a specific plan to follow. These eight basic steps of a successful change management process can help you maximize the ROI of the changes you make within your organization.
1. Define the Change
Everyone must be serious about change in the workplace. Successfully implementing a change management process requires time, resources, and careful planning. So before you set out with grand ambitions to completely revolutionize your office’s daily operations 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 human behaviors do you expect to see if the change management process is successful?
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 come from within every layer of your organization. According to McKinsey, this will help you get people across the organization invested, making the change 30% more likely to stick.
Identify individuals who 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 stakeholders and employees throughout the change process–and how to collect and act on the feedback you receive.
- 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 team member 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 the 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 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. Employees may resist change 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 it, 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 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 leadership team members regularly post content on that platform and give shout-outs to people who share their 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, but 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 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 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 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 and avoid organizational burnout.
1. Encourage Feedback (and Take It Seriously)
You hired 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 before implementing change, continue to hold regular meetings to follow up so your team members understand the progress better. 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 significant organizational changes are more than twice as likely to report chronic stress than those who haven’t.
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 also promote company loyalty and a sense of camaraderie 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 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 does not matter; expressing genuine gratitude to your employees does.
4. Share Goals and Metrics Where Everyone Can Access Them
Change in the workplace is hard enough without wasting countless precious hours tracking down information, instructions, and resources necessary to adjust successfully. 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 is centralized and easy to find, your team doesn’t have to waste time searching for important information.
Resistance Management After Implementing Organizational Change
After implementing organizational change, it is important to manage resistance. Resistance can come from individuals or groups who feel the change will negatively impact them.
Managing resistance involves understanding why people are resisting and addressing their concerns. Transparency and participation are vital tools to help manage resistance.
Some ways to manage resistance include:
- Communicating the reasons for the change and how it will benefit
- Involving people in the decision-making process whenever possible
- Offering support and resources to help people adjust to the change
- Addressing any fears or concerns that people have
Change can be difficult because it requires employees to abandon their established habits. But if handled correctly, a period of change within an organization can be an exciting time that increases collaboration and boosts engagement. By creating a change management process that prioritizes the needs of all employees during the transformation process, you’re much more likely to achieve a seamless and successful evolution.
As your organization evolves, so do the technology and processes your organization relies on. 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 January 10, 2023 to incorporate new statistics and best practices.