Change Management: Demystifying the mysterious.

Senior Consultant, Therese Murray explains the role of the Change Manager.

So what exactly is Change Management? And what does a Change Manager do? Ah, the age-old questions which humankind has pondered over for millennia…(well, maybe the last few decades, perhaps).

But they are great questions, and ones, as a Senior Change Manager, that I get asked a lot. If you don’t know what Change Management is, you’re not alone. I field these questions from anyone and everyone, including my kids, my partner, and my hairdresser. I even get asked the questions frequently by members of project teams. I love being asked this as it gives me a chance to demonstrate exactly how important change management is to project success.

So tell me, what exactly is Change Management?

The human side of a project.

At its simplest, change management is a way of thinking and a methodology that manages the human side of a project. There’s often a strong focus on the technical side of the project – what the solution is and how the project is being managed – but equally important is a focus on the people side of change. This means answering questions like what is changing; how is it changing; and most importantly, what impact will this have on our real-life people? What do they need to do differently; and how are we going to help them do things differently?

It’s only once we have answers to these questions that a project can be set up with the best possible chance for success.

Wading through the messy transition state as smoothly as possible

For any change within any organisation, it is the people who will need to change in some way in order to make the change effective and long-lasting. They will need to move from a comfortable state (sometimes well-worn but familiar, like your favorite old jeans) to an ideal future-state (think of this like the latest pair of tight skinny-leg jeans that haven’t been worn in yet).

The thing is though, none of us live in a world where we can simply jump from the current-state to the future-state easily – there’s usually a messy period we need to wade through which can bring up all sorts of responses, emotions and just plain, hard questions. Some of the questions that people will need to know in order to make sense of the future-state are:

This messy period is known as the ‘transition state’ and that’s where Change Managers step in – to help your people move from the current-state to future-state as smoothly as possible, maximising the chance of your project being a success. More about this later – but first, let’s turn our minds to why Change Management is so important.

Why is Change Management so important?

People need to actually adopt the new solution in order for it to be declared a success.

Too often I see the most brilliant solutions to organisational problems being developed – such as a new system, a new process, or a restructure – being ‘shoved’ into the organisation with little thought given to how the end-users are going to use this new solution (and whether they’ll even want to). In other words, all the attention is given to the technical solution, but very little to the people side of change i.e. will anyone actually use this solution? At the end of the day, you can implement whatever new solution into an organisation, but if the people don’t engage with it, adopt it and ultimately use it, then the project will not be a success. Simply saying “We’ve gone live!” and ticking a box, does not mean you have achieved what you set out to achieve.

How many times have you witnessed organisations who spend multi-million dollars developing and rolling out a new system, only to find that no one actually uses it, and staff find workarounds to go back to their old ways? This is because no one thought of the human or people side of change – they just assumed people will want the new solution. Unless you help people on that journey by raising their awareness and desire for change (as well as providing them with the skills to be able to do their jobs differently), you may find the new solution becomes a dusty old memory sitting on a shelf in the metaphorical storage room.

Real and tangible consequences of a lack of change management

There are very real and tangible consequences of not managing the people side of change well – to name a few, blown-out budgets; a slower return on investment (ROI); and staff leaving the organisation. You run the risk of failing to deliver what you set out to; impacting negatively on customers and/or staff engagement; and at its extreme, a completely abandoned project.

What does a Change Manager do and how can they help my organisation on its change journey?

So now that we understand why Change Management is so important, let’s talk about how a Change Manager can assist you navigate the muddy waters of moving from the current-state to the future-state.

1. Getting clear with what it is that we’re trying to achieve.

Firstly, a Change Manager will make sure everyone in the organisation is very clear on the objectives of the project. While this may sound obvious, it is critical that we start with the end in mind – how will we know what ‘done’ looks like? How will we know the project was a success? Without knowing what the ‘end game’ is, we can’t measure success and we can’t know whether the project had the true impact it set out to achieve.

A Change Manager can also help you gauge the level of change risk within your project – for example, does your organisation have the necessary ingredients to be ready for the change, or are they quite resistant to the change? Is the change a large one or a small one? Is the change happening all at once, or will it be incremental? All of these factors impact the level of risk to the organisation, and consequently the scale of the change management efforts that will be required.

2. Getting clear with what is changing, for who, and when.

One of the most important roles a Change Manager plays is to help you work out exactly what will be changing for your people, down to a division, team, or individual level (depending on the size of your organisation). Such changes could be anything from new or updated processes, systems, job roles, or organisational structures. Maybe you also require a real mindset shift or behavior change from your people. A Change Manager can help you get to the bottom of what the impacts are because they know that change begins with individuals and that broad-reaching effective change won’t occur unless a critical mass of individuals have changed in the way that you need them to.

It is only once we are clear on the change impacts, that we can move to planning to effectively manage this change.

3. Getting clear on how we’re going to move from current-state to future-state, and get through all the mess in the middle.

Once the Change Manager has identified exactly what will be changing (and trust me, they will keep asking the tough questions until they get to the bottom of it!), they can work out a plan of attack for how staff are going to become aware of the change; how you can help them to want to change; and how to gain the knowledge and skills to change. But the Change Manager won’t stop there – they’ll also consider how you can make the change stick in your organisation, so people don’t go back to their old habits.

Typically, a Change Manager will document this plan of attack through a Change Management Plan, which could also include a Training Plan and / or Communications Plan.  They’ll monitor these plans as they go – constantly keeping an eye on areas that might become barriers to people adopting the change, and they will swoop in to help you take the necessary action where things might be getting off track. Think of a Change Manager as your eyes and ears on the ground who will alert you to any potential problems, that may pose a risk to project success.

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