Few organizations have escaped the need for major change in the past decade, as new technologies and global crises have reshaped entire industries. However, the fact that change has become more frequent does not make such changes any easier.
Change is, at its core, a people process, and people are creatures of habit, hardwired to resist adopting new mind-sets, practices, and behaviors. To achieve and sustain transformational change, companies must embed these mind-sets, practices, and behaviors at every level, and that is very hard to do — but it has never been more important.
Some organizations have managed to develop approaches to change management that address change comprehensively. A successful business transformation effort must capture the hearts and minds of people who need to operate differently to deliver the desired results. The good news is that it can be done.
What Is Change Management?
Change management is both a capability and a set of interventions that deliver the people-oriented side of a change effort. Successful change management targets leaders but also engages people across the organization, while adjusting key enabling processes such as performance management. It helps employees make the transition to new behaviors, and it helps sustain the benefits of the new post-transformation enterprise.
Most business leaders have come to understand the importance of the people component in implementing and embedding change. According to a survey conducted by Booz & Company of 350 global executives charged with leading major transformation programs, senior leaders now recognize that people initiatives usually spell the difference between success and failure.
However, there was broad consensus among the respondents that this sort of change management is often undertaken too late and too lightly to be effective. To achieve a successful change effort, people issues need to be identified and incorporated in project management plans from the start and then revisited again and again throughout the implementation process to ensure the desired strategic outcome.
The Five Success Factors
Each of the following five key success factors should be considered vital by those designing a change management program. These are the actions that can make change happen — and make it stick. All five should be evident in the program’s implementation.
1. Understand and spell out the impact of the change on people. A prerequisite to any viable change program is a clear-eyed assessment of the impact it will have on various populations in the organization. This analysis identifies the type and scale of changes affecting each segment of employees (as defined by role or business, for example). This assessment also provides a basis for communicating with the team members about what the change means for them personally — the predominant concern of every employee in a business transformation.
A well-known global energy firm did exactly that when it produced a change impact analysis with a “heat map” illustrating the intensity of change for each group of employees, and a detailed description of the changes each role would need to deliver. As a result, the leadership team was able to focus and redirect the transformation program to address the challenges facing those in the roles most affected. Moreover, project teams identified areas of potential overlap and conflict in the impact of various initiatives. Finally, the analysis informed the plans and sequencing of the overall transformation program and became the basis for communications with managers. In cascade fashion, managers received the message from their supervisors and then delivered it to their teams.
2. Build an emotional and rational case for change. Many leaders excel at building the rational case for change, but they are less adept in appealing to people’s emotional core. Yet the employees’ emotions are where the momentum for real transformation ultimately lies. Change management communications need to be targeted to each segment of the workforce, and delivered in a two-way fashion that allows people to make sense of the change subjectively.