Change occurs as a process, not as an event. Organizational change does not happen instantaneously because there was an announcement, a kickoff meeting or even a go-live date. Individuals do not change simply because they received an email or attended a training program.
When we experience change, we move from what we had known and done through a period of transition to arrive at a desired new way of behaving and doing our job.
Although it is the last of the seven concepts of change management, treating change as a process is a central component of successful change and successful change management. By breaking change down into distinct phases, you can better customize and tailor your approach to ensure that individuals successfully adopt the change to how they work.
It is easy to see changes in nature occurring as a process. Whether it is a caterpillar turning into a butterfly or winter shifting into spring, we can easily appreciate the process of change. But when we begin changing our organization with projects and initiatives, we often forget the fact that change does not happen instantaneously.
The easiest, most basic approach to understanding change as a process is to break change down into distinct, understandable elements. The three states of change provide a powerful framework: the Current State, the Transition State and the Future State.
The three states of change provide a way to articulate how change actually occurs. Whether the change is an ERP application, a new performance review process, a new piece of machinery on the production line, an optimized and managed set of business processes, or a new reporting structure, there is always a Current State, Future State and Transition State.
Think about a project you are working on or a project that is impacting you. Using the following table, try to define each of the three states of change and come up with three adjectives that describe that state.
|Description||Adjectives Describing that State|
To take the understanding of change as a process one step further, think about who in the organization spends their time focused on the Current State, Transition State and Future State. The table below looks at three audiences and how they view the states of change.
|Current State||Transition State||Future State|
|Executives and senior leaders||What I need to change and why I am trying to implement change||A necessary evil to get me where I want to be||The goal that I have decided to move my organization toward|
|Project teams||What I'm starting with and must improve||The focus of my daily work and what I'm charged with solving||Where we ultimately want to end up|
|The day-to-day work that I do to deliver value to the organization||A disorganized inconvenience to me doing my job||An unknown that may or may not be good for me|
Executives and senior leaders live in the Future State. That is what they are responsible for and compensated for—deciding how the organization should function in six months, one year, three years, etc. Project teams live in the Transition State. They investigate alternatives, decide on a path, and develop a solution to change the organization. Employees, managers and supervisors live in the Current State. They cannot simply stop their work to implement a change. They are responsible for keeping the organization functioning while a change is being implemented.
The disconnect here can have significant ramifications when it comes to communicating about change. Senior leaders tend to focus on and speak about vision, almost detrimentally in some instances. Project teams tend to focus their communications on the details of their solution and the milestones and time frames when change will happen. Employees want to know why what they are doing now (the Current State) needs to be changed in the first place. Change management practitioners play a key role in bridging the gap between the three states of change.
Once you have started thinking about change not as a singular event but as a process, the question remains: how do you manage the process of change? Managing change as a process takes place on two levels:
Each individual employee or manager who is impacted by a change must go through their own personal process of change. If the change impacts five people, then each of those five must move from their Current State through their Transition State to their own Future State. If the project impacts 500 people, then there are 500 Current-Transition-Future processes that must occur. If the initiative impacts 5,000 people, then there are 5,000 individuals moving from a Current State to a Future State. This is the essence of change management: supporting individuals through the required personal transitions necessary for a project or initiative to improve the performance of the organization.
The Prosci ADKAR Model provides a more detailed description of how an individual successfully moves from their Current State to their Future State. The ADKAR Model describes the five building blocks of successful change:
Whether it is a change at home, in the community, or at work, individuals are successful at change when they have awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement. This results-oriented description of the individual change process gives change management practitioners a new focus. For example, instead of seeing their job as "creating a communications plan," an effective practitioner with a focus on the individual change process sees his or her job as "creating awareness" and so forth.
Consider these two final observations about change as a process at the individual level. First, people will start the change process at different points in time. A team that is part of a pilot program may learn about a change and start the change process months before other, larger groups of employees. Second, individuals take different amounts of time to move through the process themselves. For instance, awareness of the need for change may only take a few hours where for another it may take days or weeks to arrive at the point of saying "I understand why the change is needed."
Once we begin viewing and managing the individual change processes associated with a project or initiative, we will be more successful at enabling those individual transitions that together will result in successful organizational change.
When it comes to managing change at the organizational level, viewing change as a process helps determine the sequencing and content of the change management effort.
First, organizational change management itself should follow a process that parallels the process of change associated with a project or initiative. Prosci's 3-Phase Process for organizational change management lays out specific activities for Phase 1 – Preparing for Change (occurring during the Current State), Phase 2 – Managing Change (occurring during the Transition State), and Phase 3 – Reinforcing Change (occurring during the Future State).
Second, research shows that change management practitioners have five tools, or levers, they can use to help move individuals forward through the change process: communications plan, sponsor roadmap, coaching plan, training plan and resistance management plan. Depending on whether we are in the Current State, Transition State or Future State, different tools will be more effective, and the content will change. Two examples:
Managing change as a process from an organizational viewpoint ensures that the right activities are occurring at the right time, and that employees are receiving the right information they need to move through their own personal process of change.
Learn more about the seven concepts that make up the reality of change when you download the full article.
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.