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Why change management?

Chapter 1 preview from the new edition of
Change Management: the people side of change

The Foundational Tenets for Change Management: Connecting people with results.


This excerpt from the soon to be released revision of Prosci's book Change Management: the people side of change provides a solid connection to why we change in the first place, and makes the link between business results and people simple and easy to explain. Stay tuned for the full release later this year.

The results and outcomes of workplace changes are intrinsically and inextricably tied to individual employees doing their jobs differently. A perfectly designed process that no one follows produces no improvement in performance. A perfectly designed technology that no one uses creates no additional value to the organization. Perfectly defined job roles that are not fulfilled by employees deliver no sustained results. Whether in the workplace, in your community or in government, the connection between a quality solution and benefit realization is individuals embracing and adopting the change.

Change management enables employees to adopt a change so that business objectives are realized. It is the bridge between solutions and results, and it is fundamentally about people, and our collective role of transforming change into successful outcomes for our organizations.

But what does it mean to manage the people side of change and what exactly is change management? How does change management drive successful change? To answer these questions, it is necessary to establish the foundational tenets for change management. This grounding in the reality of how change actually happens enables a better understanding and more robust application of the tools and processes for managing the people side of change. Each of these tenets will build on the other, and together they form the basis for the "what and why" of change management.

To begin, we need to have an anchor point that you, as a reader, can agree with and that acts as a starting point for this discussion: We change for a reason. As simple as this sounds, an underlying principle for managing change is that a future state that is different than today can be envisioned, and that we are changing to that future state to achieve a specific and desired outcome.

Saying we change for reason does not mean that the reason for every change is the same, only that there is a specific reason or objective for any particular change. The reasons for change are as varied as the change itself: revenue growth, improved customer satisfaction, reduced costs, better product or service quality, reduced risk exposure, improved quality of life and so on. Projects and initiatives are undertaken not because they are fun and exciting, but because there is an opportunity to capture or a problem to solve. Most importantly, there is a chance to improve performance in a meaningful way. A fundamental assumption of change is that something different is possible. This gives us our anchor point and the first tenet for change management:

Tenet #1 - We change for a reason.


To establish the second tenet, consider what makes a change "come to life" and produce a desired outcome. Is it the new technology or processes? How about new tools or new organizational structures? While these are necessary components of change, their presence alone does not create the change we are looking to achieve. Change has only truly occurred when individuals in the organization begin working in new ways: displaying new behaviors, using new tools, adhering to new processes and adopting new values. Individual shifts in behavior are the cornerstone of change. When numerous individual shifts are taken together as a whole, the desired future state of the organization is achieved. This leads us to the second Tenet: Organizational change requires individual change.

It is easy to think about change from an organizational perspective: the optimization of business processes; a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) application; electronic medical records; new accounting systems; the release of a new software tool; the move to a new office complex; the installation of a new piece of equipment in the manufacturing process; the shift toward paperless operations. These are all examples of changes that organizations are undertaking to improve performance, capture an opportunity or resolve an issue. But each of these changes ultimately requires certain individuals in the organization to do their jobs differently.

This is not to say that new technologies, improved processes, better tools and new organizational designs are not enablers of change, as these are certainly essential building blocks. However, change ultimately results from people adopting new skills and demonstrating new capabilities, and while this may sound like common sense, we often assume that change at an individual level will simply just happen. For example, it is easy for a project manager or business leader to make the following assumptions: If I build it, everyone will use it; if I build it, everyone will use immediately; and if I build it, everyone will use it effectively. If these assumptions were always true, then each change would yield the desired outcomes every time.

Reality is different. If you build it, some people will use it, but not necessarily everyone. Some may never embrace the change by finding "workarounds" or simply opting out. If you build it, it will take time for people to get on board. Some people may change quickly, while others may move very slowly. Finally, if you build it, each person will use it at a different level of proficiency, some very effectively and some very poorly. The realization of change, even large-scale organizational projects and initiatives, is at its core an individual phenomenon. In other words, the degree to which a change produces results is directly correlated with individual change, and hence the second tenet:

Tenet #2: Organizational change requires individual change.


When we consider that the realization of a change and the achievement of specific outcomes are tied to people, we can now ask the right questions: How many total employees will engage in the change versus how many will opt out or find workarounds (referred to as the ultimate utilization of the change in the Prosci ROI of Change Management Model)? How quickly will our employees get on board with the change (the speed of adoption)? How effectively will the change be implemented at an individual level (proficiency)? Since change is ultimately an individual phenomenon, it is these individual factors that drive or constrain the value that a change creates. This leads us to the third tenet: Organizational outcomes are the collective result of individual change.

Specifically, the closer you are to 100% engagement with employees (a 100% ultimate utilization rate), then the closer you are to achieving 100% of the desired outcomes. Likewise, the faster employees embrace the change, the sooner the benefits are realized. For proficiency, the skills or competency demonstrated by employees directly correlates to the degree the benefits can be achieved.

On the other hand, the closer these human factors are to zero, the more likely the change will be viewed as a failure and the objectives will go unmet. For example, if a solution to a problem was developed, but no one implemented or used the new solution, then the business objective failed, even if the technical solution was developed exactly to specifications. A change that was supposed to be implemented in three months but instead takes two years is equally problematic. The ultimate utilization, speed of adoption and proficiency are the human factors that impact the overall return on investment and the degree to which the desired outcomes are achieved. Success, specifically delivering results and outcomes, depends on individuals embracing and adopting the change.

For example, consider the deployment of a large enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in a manufacturing company. The system was end-to-end, connecting customer order entry directly to manufacturing and inventory control. The goal of the implementation was to accelerate the order fulfillment process for customers and increase inventory accuracy while enabling just-in-time manufacturing. Tom, an order fulfillment specialist in the warehousing department, received a customer order through the new system. He knew he had the product because he had seen it in the warehouse earlier that day. However, when he attempted to process the order, the ERP system listed the current inventory as "0" and would not allow the order to be processed. Tom could not ship the product sitting right there on the shelf because the new process required that the item be present in the inventory module of the new ERP system. When the problem was investigated, it was determined that one individual in manufacturing was resistant to the change and was not entering new inventory into the system in a timely manner.

This example shows several of the tenets at work. First, the reason for this change was not the new ERP system. The reason for the change was faster customer service and more accurate inventory control. Second, failure to manage the people side of change in the manufacturing group resulted in a failed outcome for the business and the customer, not just a delay in the implementation of the system or frustration on Tom's part. Third, implementing system and organizational changes did not, in and of themselves, produce results. Only through individual change and the new capabilities of individual employees could the organization realize a new future state and the associated business outcomes. Finally, Tom changing by himself was not enough. The overall outcome for the organization was the collective result of many individual contributors. Each person in the process must embrace and engage in the change in order for the desired outcomes to be achieved.

When project managers and business leaders assume that the human factors of change (ultimate utilization, speed of adoption and proficiency) will automatically be 100% the moment a change is introduced (or at the "go-live" date), they fall into the trap of believing that designing and implementing a business solution is sufficient to achieve results. Without the engagement of each employee who must do their job differently as a result of the change, we lack tangible benefits from change, hence the third tenet.

Tenet #3: Organizational outcomes are the collective result of individual change.


So if you are asked "why change management?" the answer is simple: to ensure that each change in our organization produces the results we are expecting. If you are then asked "what is change management or what is organizational change management" the answer, and the fourth tenet, is: Change management is an enabling framework for managing the people side of change. The reality in organizations today is that employees have choice, capacity limitations and capability constraints. Change saturation is at an all time high. Resistance to change from employees is the norm and not the exception, especially when change is being imposed by others. Failing to lead the people side of change results in lower utilization, slower speed of adoption and poor proficiency; stated simply, less benefit from the change.

For this reason change management should not be viewed as simply a mechanism to reduce employee resistance or a plan to mitigate risks to the organization during change. Change management provides an organizational framework that enables individuals to adopt new values, skills and behaviors so that business results are achieved. Change management is about engaging the passion and energy of employees around a common and shared vision, such that the change becomes in integral part of their work and behavior.

Change management, as a practical matter, leverages the normal mechanisms within an organization to influence and develop employees through broad activities such as communications, training and visible sponsorship. At the same time, change management enables action at an individual employee level through coaching and resistance management. Change managers are not simply project team members or change management practitioners. Change managers include organization leaders, executives, managers, front-line supervisors and employees; all who enable individuals within an organization to transition from their own current state to a new future state. All of these change management activities and roles comprise a discipline and field of study that enable individual and organizational transition, and hence the fourth tenet.

Tenet #4: Change management is an enabling framework for
managing the people side of change.


This leads us to the fifth and final tenet: We apply change management to realize the benefits and desired outcomes of change. This concluding principle is an essential and distinguishing quality of change management. Unlike project management that is focused on the realization of a technical solution, change management is focused on the achievement of the desired results or outcomes of the change by supporting people through their own transitions. This statement is supported by the research. Prosci's benchmarking studies show that projects effectively applying change management were six times more likely to meet their project objectives.
So while training, communications, sponsorship, resistance management and employee coaching are critical elements of change management, they do not define change management. In other words, we do not apply change management to enhance communications and training, or to implement employee recognition programs. Nor do we apply change management only to reduce the risks to the organization during change, such as lower employee morale, productivity loss, undesired turnover or negative impacts on customers. While a strong case for change management can be made on mitigating risks, it is a classic case of "necessary but not sufficient." Change management has a more important and primary objective: to increase the probability that the future state is realized and that the associated outcomes (objectives of the change) are achieved. Change management is the application of processes and tools to manage the people side of change from a current state to a new future state so the desired results of the change (and expected return on investment) are achieved. This leads to the fifth tenet:

Tenet #5: We apply change management to realize the
benefits and desired outcomes of change.


These five tenets comprise the "what and why" of change management. They describe the universal truths about how change happens and why a discipline is needed that focuses on enabling individual change. These tenets also allow you to establish the value proposition for change management in your organization.



Change management is the application of processes and tools to manage the people side of change from a current state to a new future state such that the desired results of the change (and expected return on investment) are achieved.

Change management is necessary because:

1. We change for a reason.
2. Organizational change requires individual change.
3. Organizational outcomes are the collective result of individual change.
4. Change Management is an enabling framework for managing the people side of change.
5. We apply change management to realize the benefits and desired outcomes of change.

The high-level conclusions you can draw from these tenets are simple, yet they will profoundly impact the approach you take to lead change.

1. We apply change management for one primary reason: to ensure that the desired results from the change are achieved. We measure the success of change management by measuring the degree to which the objectives of the change (or project) are realized. Additional benefits from applying change management include:

- Faster speed of adoption
- Higher ultimate utilization
- Greater proficiency
- Higher engagement of the change
- Legacy of successful change
- Resistance and risk mitigation (lower productivity, employee turnover, negative customer impact)

2. To lead change at an organizational level, you must be able to lead change at an individual level. Change management is only effective when you combine the processes and tools for organizational change management with the processes and tools for individual change management.

3. Change management is not a one-person job (or the job of one team). The roles required to execute a change management plan include senior leaders, front-line supervisors, middle managers, specialist from HR and OD, employees and designated resources on a project team. Unlike project management, which is executed by a trained project manager, change management requires the orchestration of activities by many players throughout an organization.


Prosci Copyright 2012. Reprints of this book excerpt require permission from Prosci.








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  • Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report ($289 / quantity discounts available) - journal-style report with lessons learned and best practices from 650 participants, presented in an easy-to-use format - reads as a checklist of what to do and what not to do
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