How do you typically introduce change management in conversations? And how does your audience shape the way you have that discussion? Building buy-in and support for change management requires pivoting the conversation away from yourself and toward your specific audience, clearly relating the benefits to what matters to them. Here's an intentional way to start speaking to people in terms that resonate with them.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

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. Although this definition is correct, is it compelling enough to get a project manager or Six Sigma black belt or CIO excited about change management? Probably not.

Even if you talk about the activities you perform when applying change management, such as readiness assessments, stakeholder identification, impact analyses, and communications plans, you're not likely to get the buy-in you're seeking. Why? These descriptions focus on what you do and care about as a change management professional. 

To elicit interest and excitement, you must ground the conversation in your what your audience does and cares about professionally. Start by establishing some easy-to-understand realities of change that you can agree on. Then build the story for change management by agreeing on how change happens in an organization. You should also ask pointed questions like, "What percentage of your project outcomes is linked to people changing the way they work?" Once you know your audience's needs, you can position change management as an important part of their solution.

Create Common Ground Around Change

Starting your discussion with what your audience knows and their role in change, rather than with what you do as a change practitioner, may not feel natural at first. But this approach enables you to create common ground and build the support and buy-in you need.

Generally, here's how such a conversation goes:

Organizations create change by introducing projects and initiatives. The project or initiative you're working on right now is one of these vehicles for change. Changes impact how certain people do their jobs, requiring them to exhibit new behaviors, use new tools or technologies, or follow new processes. Your change ultimately requires a group of individual people—Andre, Becky, Carlos and Dharma—to do their jobs differently.

The ability of your project or initiative to deliver results and outcomes is intrinsically and inextricably tied to these individuals doing their jobs a new way. Your new processes only deliver value if employees follow them. Your new tools only deliver value if employees use them. Because the success of your change depends on individual people doing their jobs in a new way, supporting those people through their  individual transitions is essential to capturing the value of projects and initiatives. Change management is a solution that helps you deliver the intended results and outcomes you need from your project because organizations don't change—people do. Change only happens one person at a time.


CM and PM

An Audience-Focused Conversation

In addition to beginning with the reality of change instead of defining change management, you can build more support and buy-in by leveraging your audience's professional language and context. Talk about change management by anchoring your story to what they know, do and value as professionals working on a change. 

You can effectively anchor change management to another person's perspective by asking questions that help you understand who they are, what they care about, their professional language and context, and how change management applies from their point of view.

Here are seven examples you can use as starting points for adjusting your conversation with professionals in your organization:

1. Project managers

What do they care about? What is their language and context?

Project management is about sequencing activities and resources to meet requirements through the achievement of defined MILESTONES.

How can you talk about change management from the project manager's perspective?

When we ask an individual to change how they work, they must achieve certain personal milestones to make the change successfully. Change management is about sequencing people-side activities so that individuals achieve their own personal MILESTONES and are able to make a change to how they do their jobs.

2. Six Sigma practitioners

What do they care about? What is their language and context?

Six Sigma is about applying a structured methodology to improve the quality of outputs by minimizing VARIATION in the process.

How can you talk about change management from a Six Sigma perspective?

People experience change as a process. The "output" of a change from a people-side perspective is individuals doing their jobs in a new way. Change management is a structured methodology for reducing the VARIATION in how an individual employee experiences the change process resulting from projects or initiatives.

3. Lean practitioners

What do they care about? What is their language and context?

Lean is a structured discipline for improving performance by isolating and eliminating WASTE and non-value-adding work from a system.

How can you talk about change management from the Lean perspective?

When a change is introduced by a project or initiative, there is the potential for waste and non-value-adding activities during the transition (resistance, waiting for answers, confusion, stress, loss of focus, and wasted training). Change management works to eliminate WASTE created during the change process by minimizing non-value-adding activities and supporting individuals in their own personal transitions.

Project management with gantt chart

4. Customer success managers

What do they care about? What is their language and context?

When a software company sells a subscription-based software solution, they work with customers to achieve high levels of adoption and usage by ONBOARDING customers and demonstrating product value which leads to lower rates of CHURN.   

How can you talk about change management from a customer success perspective?

To reduce customer CHURN (canceled subscriptions), customers must adopt the software solution, which requires them to change the way they do their day-to-day work. By incorporating change management into ONBOARDING processes during the contracting phase, customer success managers can proactively engage with and enable customers to move through their personal transitions, overcome resistance, and achieve the high levels of adoption and usage that lead to realized value.  

5. Human resources managers

What do they care about? What is their language and context?

Human resources professionals support an organization's EMPLOYEE needs by aligning with the organization's overall STRATEGY. 

How can you talk about change management from a human resources perspective?

Human resources managers often participate in change management activities to create awareness through communications and facilitate training. This helps EMPLOYEES develop the awareness, knowledge and skills they need to adopt and use changes, which helps advance the organization's STRATEGY.  

6. Senior leaders

What do they care about? What is their language and context?

FINANCE, finance, finance. STRATEGIC direction. Creating an environment for success.

How can you talk about change management from a senior leader's perspective?

To improve financial and strategic performance, senior leaders fund and authorize projects and initiatives. One critical success factor for these efforts is individual employees adopting and using the change. Change management directly contributes to the FINANCIAL and STRATEGIC outcomes of projects and initiatives by enabling the envisioned future state.

7. People in general

What do they care about? What is their language and context?

Have they ever experienced a change in their job? A school principal may have recently introduced a new math curriculum. The agent at the rental car desk may be required to adopt and use a new reservation process. A nurse may work for a small local hospital that was acquired by a large regional hospital system with a different reporting structure. The key is to pick something they experienced personally.

How can you talk about change management from their unique perspective?

"Remember when [your organization] tried to [make a change that affected the way you do your day-to-day work]? It was probably hard on you and your coworkers. Change management helps make a change easier on people and more successful for the organization by engaging, equipping and supporting people throughout the change process."

reShape the Conversation 

Tailoring the conversation to another professional perspective is a practical and effective way to start gaining buy-in and support for change management. By using the language and context that resonates with your audience, you clearly position change management as their solution for driving results and outcomes. And by focusing on them instead of you, you make a more compelling case for change management while demonstrating that helping people through change is the key to success.

 

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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.