Just what does the buzz-phrase “change management” mean, anyway?
Well, just the fact that “change management” often strikes people as a “buzz-phrase” illustrates the problem. You wouldn’t blink if someone told you they needed to do a better job managing their “budgeting” process or their “manufacturing” process. But managing a “change process”? Sounds like consultant-speak, right? Wrong.
Given the need to make a significant change in your business, especially one that will affect people and/or require their involvement and commitment to be successful, you really need to think of change as a process, too. The fact is that there are time-honored theories and practices that can mean the difference between implementing a change that enhances your business performance and fires people up and a change that bogs you down and, as a result, fails to achieve its objectives and damages morale to boot.
The point of all this is that, just like other business processes, change is a process and needs to be managed as such. Hence the phrase – like it or not! – change management. So change management is the body of knowledge that speaks to effectively managing change in organizations, according to a widely accepted set of proven principles, in a way that effectively mobilizes commitment to the desired change and achieves the business results for which you embarked on the change to begin with.
What are the most important elements in effectively managing change?
First, as a leader, you need to demonstrate to all who need to get behind the change, that the status quo is unsustainable. Ironically, this is easier when there’s a crisis at hand than when only you and a few other leaders see the rationale for change.
Along with this first step, you need to create in the minds of those you want to enlist a very compelling picture – a vision – of how much better it’s going to be once you succeed in making this change.
Next you need to establish a coalition, or team, of folks who are behind the change and agree to lead it with you.
Then you need to provide opportunities for people to actually get “in the trenches” with you to make change happen. You also need to structure this involvement to ensure that, pretty quickly, they can achieve some small “wins” that indicate success and motivate them to continue to move this new change program forward.
Once this starts to happen, you need to cheerlead as if the change depended upon it – because it does! You need to celebrate and praise what’s being done that’s helping to “move the needle” and identify and discourage what isn’t.
Perhaps most important of all, it’s usually best if you orchestrate and plan all of the above beforehand, not make it up as you go along. That’s what we mean by managing change vs. letting change manage you!
Can change-management skills be taught?
Absolutely. We do it all the time. (See our Change Management: Principles and Practices Program.) But to do it best, avoid the strictly academic and theoretical.
The best way to approach change management training is the “action-learning” method, whereby leaders get to apply the principles of change management to a real change project that they are responsible for in their businesses. As a result, they leave the training program with a first stab at a change management plan that they can take back to their companies and apply in the real world.