The magnitude of a given change will impact how employees react and how you should manage the change. So how do you assess the disruptive nature of your change?

Using the states of change as a measuring stick

The concept of change happening in three distinct phases – on both an individual and an organizational level – has been used by countless change management thinkers to understand and more effectively manage change.

states of change

In the context of incremental versus radical change, consider the following questions:

  • How big is the gap between the future state and the current state?
  • How different is the future state from the current state?
  • How much of a departure from the current state is the future state?

These may seem like simple questions, but they are often overlooked. When planning a project, we tend to focus on the solution – the transition state. When we add a change management perspective, it becomes important to understand just how much change or disruption is taking place because it impacts how we will manage that change.

Think about a project you are working on right now. How would you describe the gap between the current state and the future state? Is it radical, or is it incremental? 

Customizing Your Change Management Approach

The nature and size of the change – or the gap between the current state and the future state – impacts how much change management you need. Changes that are incremental in nature typically require less change management because you are asking your employees to take a smaller step from what they know and are comfortable with. Radical changes, on the other hand, require more change management.

In the two scenarios below, think about a project such as introducing Agile Method:

  • Scenario 1 – you are introducing Agile method into a technology firm that is comfortable with making quick adaptations to stay on top of industry change
  • Scenario 2 – you are introducing Agile method into a utility firm that is comfortable with long-term requirements and a waterfall approach to solution delivery

For the technology firm, Agile method is an incremental change to how they bring solutions to life. For the utility firm, Agile method is a radical change, involving new approaches to thinking about requirements and delivering change. These two scenarios require significantly different approaches to change management. The amount of sponsorship required will be different, as will the level of support and personal coaching from managers. The training and communication will be different. And how resistance occurs, where it comes from, and how it should be managed will be different.

Incremental versus radical Change for Different Groups

A project may impact different groups in your organization very differently. For some in the organization, the project may only have a small impact on their day-to-day work and processes. For others, the same project may cause tremendous disruption. Each impacted individual has their own current state and their own future state required by the change, and thus they have their own gap to bridge.

Here’s how you can recognize the unique journey of each individual while creating an actionable and properly sized change management approach:

Conduct sizing assessments

In Prosci's 3-Phase Process, a change characteristics assessment will help you understand the nature of the change, including how disruptive it is going to be. This is necessary input for customized change management plans.

Segment groups and address them specifically and appropriately

Do not treat every group the same; adjust your approach based on how the change uniquely impacts them. By focusing on the individual change impacts, you will build a more complete view of the change and better engage your impacted groups.

Customize your approach

Your change management strategy and plans should reflect whether the change is incremental or radical. The size of the disruption of the change should impact your communications plan, sponsor roadmap, coaching plans, training plans, and resistance management plans. Customize and scale your approach based on the unique impact and qualities of the change. 

What This Means for You

A "one-size-fits-all" approach is not appropriate or effective for change management. You must understand the magnitude, disruption, gap and size of change to build the right approach to change management. Learn more about creating a scalable change management strategy with this article.  

Three Steps to a Change Management Strategy PDF

Written by
Tim Creasey
Tim Creasey

Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.

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