Why do we do change management? To build excellent plans? To abide by best practices in business? To appease our leadership team that decided we needed it?
No. We apply change management because change management has a distinct and pointed focus on benefit realization and achieving the desired results and outcomes of change. When embarking on our change management journeys, we begin with the end in mind. The end, in the case of change management, is driving successful change. The means is applying a structured approach to helping individual employees adopt and proficiently use changes that impact them.
Prosci defines change management as "the application of a structured process and set of tools for leading the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome." It is not by accident that the phrase "achieve a desired outcome" completes the definition. By framing change management in this results-oriented way, we overcome the assumption that change management is merely the "soft side of change." Change management is about ensuring benefit realization by addressing one of the most critical elements of benefit realization - the people side of change.
There is a critical connection between the people who are expected to accept and participate in a change and the realization of the desired outcomes of that change. To better explain the connection, outlined below are two examples of comparable projects with very different outcomes.
Organization A attempted to implement a change in which employees would submit expense reports electronically instead of using paper. The potential benefits for the organization were great: processing costs would be lower, error rates would decline, and the timeline of expense tracking would be greatly shortened.
The project team ensured that the proper software was in place and functioning. Employees were mandated to attend training on the new process. After two months, only half of the employees had logged into the new expense reporting system, and 25% of those submitted their reports incorrectly. This required the accounting office to redo many reports manually. What should have resulted in more efficiency ended up being less efficient. The desired objectives were not met, the implementation schedule had to be extended, and the project went over budget.
Organization B also attempted to implement a similar electronic expense report system.
The project team employed change management from the beginning of the project. Before sending employees to training, they executed an awareness-building campaign sharing the reasons for the change and how it would affect the employees. Meanwhile the project team and change management resources ensured that all key sponsors and managers were onboard and engaged in creating desire and excitement around the change and coaching individual employees who needed more attention. The project team designed a training session tailored to the specific needs of the workforce. They worked with managers and supervisors to ensure that the proficiency of the workforce was aligned with the adoption rates and speeds needed to achieve the desired outcomes.
Following the change implementation, the project team took steps to reinforce new behaviors by publicly rewarding and acknowledging compliance in addition to soliciting feedback on how the new process could be improved even more.
What benefit does a new process deliver if no one follows it? What benefit does a new technology or system create if no one uses it? Implementing a technical solution is only part of the equation. Ensuring that employees embrace, adopt and proficiently use the technical solution is really where benefit realization occurs. The intended results and outcomes of change are inextricably connected to whether that change becomes part of how employees do their jobs - which means that the Return on Investment of a project or initiative is directly related to how well the people side of change is managed.
This relationship is confirmed by the correlation analysis below that shows the more effective our change management effort is, the more likely we are of meeting or exceeding project objectives. The ROI of change management then, in a way, is the ROI of the project or initiative.
Organizations change for a reason, whether that is to be more competitive in the market, improve business processes, cut costs or all the above. Organizational change requires individual change. If individuals do not embrace, adopt and become proficient at the required change, then benefits will not be realized.
Change management is an enabling framework for managing these individuals through change. Therefore, we apply change management to be more competitive in the market, improve business processes, cut costs or all the above. In other words, we apply change management to optimize what the organization can achieve with the change.
By beginning with the end (benefit realization) in mind, the application of change management ensures that the majority of the workforce affected by the change embraces, adopts and uses the required change, which in turn results in the realization of the desired organizational benefit. From this perspective, we see how the application of change management has a positive effect on employees impacted by the change, in addition to an increase in the Return on Investment by meeting project objectives, finishing on time and finishing within the budget.
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.