The Ultimate Guide To the Change Management Process

According to an MIT study on digital transformation, 63% of people said the pace of technology change in their organization is too slow due to a “lack of urgency" and poor communication regarding the strategic benefits of new tools. This is why a poor change management process can lead to failure.

Over the last 40 years, studies have shown there is a 60 to 70% failure rate for organizational change projects. In this guide, we’ll help you understand why a solid change management process is important to your unique team. We’ll also cover which change management techniques and tools work best for your unique rollout. 

What is change management? 

Change management is the process of guiding and supporting employees to successfully adopt a new way of working. This might include everything from switching to a new email system to using standing desks only (yikes). 

Change management is a challenge that requires not only patience and persistence but also proper motivation and transparency. The ultimate goal is not just to implement a new product, or cultural change, but also to implement a more efficient way of thinking where everyone understands the purpose and supports the new system.  

If a rollout is large enough, change management is commonly passed along to a third party or HR to handle. This often creates a disconnect of accountability and doesn't allow managers to actually strengthen their ability to manage change. This also fails to create transparency. In fact, the reason for change often becomes unclear as the process changes hands.  

What is a change management team?

A change management team supports the manager in preparing for, carrying out, and assessing the transition. Their duties include:

  • Creating an impact analysis
  • Communicating with key stakeholders
  • Eliminating roadblocks among teams, tasks, and timelines
  • Aligning goals with action
  • Developing and leading training programs
  • Monitoring engagement 

The best way to work with a change management team is to first assign core roles among the team. These include:

  • Change practitioners who create integration plans 
  • Sponsors to lead the way by using the technology and guiding others
  • People managers that will advocate against resistance to change
  • Project managers who prepare, manage, and carry out plans with teams
  • Employees affected by the change that will train, learn about, and adopt the new program

Why is an effective change management process important?

Picture this: you need to find a new solution for running online meetings so you can collaborate with your global team spread out across different time zones. You pull up your handy search engine and start researching with your top three priorities in mind: cost, quality, and ease of use.

After a week of calls with vendors and free demos galore, you find a tool that fits the budget and meets all your needs. You attend training, evaluate the proof of concept, and are happy with the outcome. You think: "Now I just need to implement it across the team, and my job is done!"

Not so fast. 

Rolling out a new tool across a team is not a one-and-done process. Implementing a new tool takes a lot of work and careful planning. Forcing your team to use a new tool will result in instant resistance and failure. 

What is a change management plan?

A change management plan creates a step-by-step implementation success path for all new tech adoptions. It defines goals, scope, and project roles. A change management plan will also include communication workflows, resources for the technology, and tasks needed to complete the entire process. 

Once it’s in motion, the change management plan must be closely monitored. The aim is always to achieve the stated goals within the given timeline and budget constraints. However, a change management plan must also be flexible to accommodate issues that come up from time to time. Many roadblocks can be avoided simply by using project management software to forecast and fix problems before they happen, assign tasks, and react quickly to the unexpected, all while working towards progress. 

How to write a change management plan

With so many employees experiencing "change fatigue" from the ongoing circus of adopting the latest technology and adjusting to cultural shifts at work, it's important to learn what can be done to improve the actual process of change management. 

In today's world, transitioning to a new system requires more than just presentations and training sessions. It's important to speak to the human side of change as well. Understand that some people will resist, and be prepared when that happens.

Assess readiness

Is your team even ready for a change? Is this a good time? Conduct a quick session to discuss your ideas and hear their thoughts. Getting a sense of their workload and schedules will help you determine an appropriate time to implement the change. 

Be transparent 

From the beginning, make sure your team is aware of the reasons why you decided to shift to a new work system. Update them as you're evaluating tools. Explain what you're looking for and how much research you're putting into the process. This will help them understand the reason for the change and hopefully get behind it.. 

Address concerns

After announcing the change, hold office hours or a private chat room where employees can air their concerns and discuss their challenges. This not only helps make them feel included in the decision but also might help you understand things from a new perspective.

Keep evaluating

Evaluation isn't over when you've selected the system or initialed the DocuSign. Monthly or bi-weekly check-ins with your team are good habits to keep things running smoothly and ensure you're getting the most out of your new tool. It also acts as a good reminder to keep using the new tool and receive any feedback on the new process. 

Challenges of implementing change management

There are several theories as to why change management has been such a continuous struggle for so many years. 

According to Quiet Leadership, David Rock's book on transforming leadership at work, the lack of change management success is due to the way people think and react. 

Rock says: "Ordering people to change and then telling them how to do it fires the prefrontal cortex’s hair-trigger connection to the amygdala. The more you try to convince people that you’re right and they’re wrong, the more they push back. The brain will try to defend itself from threats.”

Another theory pinpoints proper management and leadership as the culprit for poor adoption. Leadership consultant Jerry Manas wrote a 10-part blog series on mastering organizational change in the workplace. According to Manas, "Implementing a tool or process will not engage anyone unless it helps them do their jobs easier. And if it doesn't help the people directly (and it may not), then it's more a matter of articulating a rallying cry or compelling need and asking their help in addressing it."

Although there are several processes out there to choose from, many of these ignore the complexity of human behavior

People feel stable and secure when they form a routine. Resistance to change arises simply because change often represents the unknown, a loss of security, and disrupts any kind of routine. 

Looking at it from a psychological angle, there is a lack of understanding about what properly motivates people to change. Several change management processes derive from the concept developed by the famous 1950s behaviorist, B.F. Skinner. His model theorized that good behavior should be awarded and bad behavior should be corrected. His cause-and-effect message is purely based on the idea that consciousness is irrelevant to understanding human behavior, and the best way to understand behavior is to look at an action and its consequences (aka, "Operant Conditioning"). 

Although this form of incentive works for understanding right and wrong and meeting quarterly sales goals, it has shown not to have positive long term effects on change. Applying Skinner’s model of Operant Conditioning in the long term may actually dampen our intrinsic motivations, crowding out our ideals and social incentives. The problem with extrinsic rewards is that they may actually suppress intrinsic motivations and values — ultimately having a negative effect on behavior and performance.

Tips for implementing effective change management framework

  1. Choose key performance indicators that make sense with your proposed change, whether it’s a new product, specific endpoint, or way of doing things. 
  2. Have a documented “why” backed by data that appeals to the stakeholders’ own goals and interests. 
  3. Create a measurable outcome for each major task or phase within the change management plan. 
  4. Remember that retraining may be needed down the road. 
  5. Write down your expectations and compare them to the real-life outcomes, then use that information to improve your next change management process. 
  6. Streamline communication by keeping it centralized within your project management platform. 
  7. Schedule regular check-ins with stakeholders and yourself at key junctures to make sure the process is still moving in the right direction. 
  8. Have a backup plan (or two) for implementation ready to go just in case. 
  9. Evaluate the people responsible for carrying out the change after the process is over and ask those who are more likely to follow through to take a leadership role in the weeks or months that follow. 
  10. Connect your goals with tangible results that affect day-to-day operations whenever possible so employees can better understand exactly why this change is happening. 

What are change management tools?

Change management tools and techniques help plan for and run a change management process. The tools you’ll need for any big organizational change include: 

  • A project management platform to organize collaborators, tasks, and data
  • A central document and communication hub to keep everyone on the same page at all times
  • A change request management plan to streamline future projects 
  • An ADKR analysis to get everyone on board with the new developments
  • A custom workflow outline for recurring tasks to save time when the project goes live
  • The 7 personality types of change management to identify who will be the most or least resistant to change
  • Gantt charts to help the team visualize progress along the way even if you’re implementing cloud change management

Why Wrike is your tool for change management

Wrike is ideal for change management preparation, all types of change management techniques, and implementation across distributed teams. Because Wrike brings full visibility to the tools and techniques of change management as well as the process, it will be easy for stakeholders to stay updated and for employees to stay on track. The project management tool has visual representations of workflows, goals, and tasks, which makes it easier to understand at a glance. Plus, centralizing all of these key change process components into one place helps teams stay informed every step of the way. 

Wrike also offers communication tools like @mentions that allow collaborators to directly loop each other into conversations. Participants can easily view the previous discussion, take a look at linked resources, and jump right in without missing a beat. 

Carry on with confidence

As you've learned, the journey to change is rarely a linear one. There will be bumps in the road and plenty of doubt surrounding the change. If you take into account the human aspect of change management methods and techniques, you’ll understand that it's rarely greeted with praise and approval, so you'll be more equipped to handle the task. 

Remember that change is inevitable in every organization. With the right plan in place, you can launch a successful transition that will transform and enhance your business and team.

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