Change Management: Definition and Tips for Success

  • Brace
  • January 23, 2019
  • 11 min

The business world is in perpetual motion and complacency is a sure way to lose the race. Companies big and small must always invent and reinvent themselves to stay competitive. The problem is: Most change management projects fail. We’ll discuss what change management means, tips for success, and key takeaways to make change and growth an integral aspect of your company’s success.

Change Management: What It Means

The definition is deceivingly simple, compared to the actual implementation. According to the Cambridge Dictionary,

“[Change management is] the planning and introducing of new processes, methods of working, etc. in a company or organization.”What is missing from this definition however, is the human factor. Driving change is the need for a company to go from how things are to the way they should be for future company success. To facilitate this, companies don’t just have to change structures, they must also bring their people forward and integrate them into the new vision and methods. Effective change management is not only a way to implement new processes and methods, but to ensure the entire team understands and is involved in this evolution.

Change? But Why Do That?

The line “we’ve always done it this way” is no longer adequate advice for today’s business world, if it ever was. Whether driven by the challenges of the digital age, legal changes, environmental concerns, or evolving market conditions, a company needs to stay on its toes and continuously adapt. Change can even be necessary due to internal factors, including when efficiency drops, too much money is being wasted, or turnover suddenly spikes.

Unfortunately, many don’t recognize these signs as indicators for change. According to a Harvard Business Review study, most employees are resistant to new directions, fearing that it will alter the things they do like about their workplace. Such expected push-back makes leaders hesitant to implement what needs to be done. Changes, however, remain necessary for success, and with understanding and planning that brings employees into the fold, companies can ease the transition into the methods for success.

Making Change Effective

Bringing in changes comes with many complications. For any new process to be effective, employees need to be informed, trained, new data releases may need to be signed, and if necessary, even new experts have to be brought onboard. No one department can handle all this. To make it happen, the whole workplace needs to be onboard.

On top of this, new changes bring out insecurities. Employees may wonder “does this software change my role? Will it cause more pressure?” Or perhaps worse “does it make may job less secure?” If ignored, these concerns can undo any progress the new process hoped to achieve.

To make change effective, it has to be considered and implemented strategically. There are many change management models that provide a solid groundwork for this undertaking. Among them are Lewin’s 3 phase model, the 8 step evolution of this by Kotter, and the top-down/bottom-up models.

Lewin’s 3 Phase Model

Psychologist Kurt Lewin views change as a 3 step process. These phases are:

  • Unfreezing: Generating an awareness that change is coming allowing for preparation.
  • Changing: Carrying out the planned change.
  • Refreezing: Stabilizing the change.

Lewin noted that in every organization there are two opposing forces: Those that want to keep the status quo and those seeking to change it. Successful change management is tasked with reassuring the defenders of the norm and to inspire them to participate rather than resist.

Kotter’s 8 Step Model

John P. Kotter took Lewin’s model a few steps further. 5 steps further, to be exact.

  1. Establish the need, to not only raise awareness of a coming change, but an understanding of why it’s necessary
  2. Build a change team that is responsible for implementing the desired change
  3. Develop a strategy and vision
  4. Communicate this to employees to inform them and get them on board
  5. Empower employees to let them implement the strategy themselves
  6. Ensure goals and success
  7. Secure accomplished goals, which can take some time
  8. Anchor changes in company culture

Bottom-up and Top-down Models

These 2 models embody very different workplace philosophies. However, they address the same question: From which direction should change be initiated and implemented?

Top-down management is a leadership style where change strategies and goals are formulated by managers up top. They are then disseminated throughout the company, usually with little input from employees.

Bottom-up management envisions a workplace where employees and teams identify changes and improvements. These are then passed from the bottom up to management.

In practice, these styles often exist parallel to each other, otherwise change would be nearly impossible. Employees can initiate deep, foundational workplace changes without the go-ahead from management as little as leadership can push through plans without bringing employees on board. A mix is necessary to keep the wheels in motion.

More details about Bottom-up and Top-down management are available in this article.

Pitfalls of Change Management

According to the 2017 Harvard Business Review article “What Everyone Gets Wrong About Change Management,” up to 75% of change strategies crash and burn. That’s not a pretty statistic. Two things drive this abysmal success rate, the what and the how. When starting a change process, it’s important to understand and address issues that are actually needed to make your company and workplace stronger (the what), and to develop a plan that is clear and involves everyone (the how). Watching out for common mistakes in this process can keep your change plans from joining the ranks of ill-fated ideas.

Common Mistakes in the Change Process

  • Goals aren’t clearly defined and no one knows where the plans will take them.
  • There is no clear strategy. Tip: Use one of the change management models as an orientation point.
  • All resistance is forbidden. There will always be push-back. Employee counterpoints say a lot about what they need, and can be used to better plan and package changes.
  • The whole company isn’t involved. Deep changes involve everyone, even partners and customers.
  • There aren’t enough change supporters. When the going gets tough, change processes need believers that will keep the ball rolling.
  • Resources are too limited. If there isn’t enough time, budget, or employees, there are no means to drive change. Too few employees means extra tasks and too little time creates more stress, neither of which drive motivation or support for change.
  • The changes are only skin deep. Any change process should focus on changing company culture. Anything more superficial will simply be temporary.

Change and The Employee Factor

Without the support of employees any project is doomed to fail. Team members want to know what to expect, what their tasks are, the goals they are aiming for, and the steps to get there. If everyone can make their own suggestions, develop solutions, and make these a reality in their work, then you’re on the right track. Employees that are involved in the change process view it much more positively than those who simply get orders from above without even knowing why the actions are necessary.

The Role of Leadership

Changes may be put into action from up top, but they are only successful when employees are active in their implementation. It’s the role of the boss to…

… keep a detailed overview, and be aware of what phase the implementation is in, what challenges teams are facing, and make sure that employees have what they need to succeed.

… reduce resistance and apprehension, by offering space for employee anxieties. Managers can help staff work through these by discussing the pro and cons of the change and clarifying the benefits for employee and company.

… get feedback and involve employees, to make sure everyone is connected to the plan, that they can address their concerns, and that potential problems are identified early and resolved.

Whether ideas come from above or below, they need managers that bring the whole team into the process and keep all sides well-represented and in unison. One-sided changes, ultimately, don’t change anything at all.

Key Takeaways

  • Change management is the process of introducing new methods into a workplace that helps everyone (employees, partners, customers, etc.) accept and use the new techniques.
  • Adaptation and evolution are necessary in the work world, but also raise anxieties amongst employees that must be strategically addressed.
  • A common driver of change failure is not including employees into the change process and ignoring their complaints and feedback about new methods.
  • A manager’s role in change processes is to keep an overview of the steps, understand and address employee fears, and to collect and work with employee feedback to ensure the process is successful and addresses an actual company need.

Using Feedback to Fine-Tune Change

In a change process, leaders need to be attuned to what the workplace needs, as well as what employees fear. By getting and engaging with feedback, managers can adapt plans to make them more accepted, track if they are truly helping the workplace, or alter change strategies if the new methods are having negative effects. Digital feedback tools such as kununu engage make this easier by streamlining feedback, offering space for anonymous ideas and exchange, and tracking employee mood and opinions. With this information, leaders can guide change to make it successful for employees and company.

Learn more about kununu engage and help your whole company work toward positive change.

Tired of reading? Check out this video for more information on change management.

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kununu engage is an application that allows you and your entire company to share continuous and anonymous feedback about what working in the company is like. This insight and transparency can help a company function better and build a stronger company culture.