What is a Change Management Strategy?
Change management strategy is defined as the response plan an organization will use to address change. It is a mechanism that aims to minimize any negative effects the changing events bring about, while at the same time capitalizing on the transformation.
All right, so this sounds good in theory, but what is it really?
In simple terms, it's a 'better safe than sorry' approach that organizations can use when change comes about (and trust me... it ALWAYS comes about!).
This can be done in a variety of formats. There are a multitude of models you can follow to better help guide you through the process:
- Lewin’s change management model
- McKinsey’s 7-S model
- Kotter’s theory
- Nudge theory
- The ADKAR model
- Bridges’ transition model
- Kubler-Ross’ change curve
- The Satir change model
We're not trying to change the wheel here (see what I did there?), and create yet another model but we will give you two things, a solid guideline on what a change management strategy is and how you can apply it in your organization.
Why You Need Change Management Strategies
Having a change management strategy means that you can better pre-empt how change(s) can affect your organization.
Benjamin Franklin famously wrote "nothing can be certain but death and taxes" which is true to this day. Change will happen one way or another, so you may as well be ready.
If you're thinking your organization can't be easily affected by change, you might want to look up companies that failed to evolve when it happened to them... There are quite a few!
Even when you think you are a massive, untouchable organization, change can cripple real fast if you don't have a strategy for it. Remember Blockbuster? probably the perfect example of the worst change management strategies.
Key Elements in a Change Management Strategy
As mentioned before, this is not a NEW approach to change management strategy, as there are plenty out there. Below you'll find a few key elements to consider along the way when building your very own strategy (using our Free Change Management Strategy Template of course!)
Being developers of strategy execution software, we know that planning is everything. Before introducing any change or even announcing it, you need to have a clear idea about what you want to achieve and how are you going to introduce it among your employees.
Document the changes and things to do to achieve them, craft a detailed timeline, and have a clear response to the potential concerns of your staff.
This is where a tool like Cascade Strategy can really shine since you can create a strategic plan specifically for this process. The plan can sit independently from the main corporate plan, but at the same time, it can have dependencies linking back to key focus areas where needed.
It makes total sense, particularly in larger organizations, to keep things relatively quiet when change starts to lurk in the background… Not everyone is comfortable with it, and it can create a feeling of uncertainty, so initially, it can help to keep the conversation within top management.
Having said this, failing to announce change before rumors start to do the rounds can make it very difficult to encourage the wider team to embrace the transformation, as they’ll start to make up their minds on how the change will affect them based on their fragmented perception.
This is why communication will be integral to the planning stage. This way you can announce the change and promote discussion, rather than being on the back foot with rumors lurking...
You never want to be in a position where you need to ‘sugarcoat’ facts or be overly optimistic, as this will usually end up in more confusion, mixed messages, and suspicion.
If there are short-term negative outcomes as a result of the transformation, discuss them. Embrace and acknowledge the potential drawbacks and encourage a conversation with the wider team.
Transparency will win in most situations and will ultimately lift everyone’s confidence that the right decisions are being made.
This is an obvious one and with good reason. It’s really important to communicate the entire process well.
Communicating that ‘change is coming’ is not enough. You need to explain WHY the change is important and what benefits may be expected from it (as well as any setbacks - don’t try to dodge tough questions around the change).
Be open to questions and suggestions, hold OPEN team meetings to discuss the changes so that there is a clear understanding from everyone about what is changing when it's changing, and how that will affect them (if at all).
We’ll talk a little more about who needs to be involved in the change management strategy development later on, but this is a key element in general throughout the process.
Those who will be affected (or people representing them), should be involved so that they can help shape the change. Even if the way forward is not the one they would necessarily choose, having their involvement will go a long way towards getting buy-in and support.
The reality is that this applies to ANY type of change, in ANY situation. You’d be surprised to see how many large organizations waste time and resources in their change initiatives, simply because they fail to involve the right people in the process.
Build a Road Map:
This is a key element, particularly in larger organizations, as it helps the wider team not only recognize the current situation (sometimes they may not be as aware of the challenges or need for a change), but also get a good sense of what the next steps and the final destination are.
This will also solidify the process for the management team and ensure that there are no gaps in the process moving forward.
This may be more appropriate for certain scenarios. If you are looking to introduce new technology, for example, it makes sense to set up a training process.
Announce that the training will be available and ensure that the process is catered depending on the level of knowledge and experience within a team.
Don’t make assumptions or expectations for the training to magically transform the organization, as this is only part of the process and we all learn new things at differing speeds.
It may be that you need to revisit the training periodically.
Proposals for Incentives:
This one is not a must-have, but again in larger organizations, it could help. Introducing some incentives through the process of change can be beneficial and encourage team members to engage with the new plan ahead, increasing agility.
This does not necessarily refer to monetary incentives. There are many ways to encourage team members, and studies have shown time and time again that money is not the ultimate incentive for many.
Depending on the type of change you are driving, there may be significant shifts at the core of the organizational strategic plan, so the below elements could be appropriate to your change management strategy...
When an organization is pivoting dramatically, it may be necessary to revisit the core vision (the "why"), to ensure that it aligns with the proposed change.
This is the least common scenario given that typically an organization tends to stick to a core vision from inception, but it is not unheard of.
Apple is a poster-child for this. When Steve Jobs stepped back into the lead role (after previously being asked to leave), the company’s approach changed dramatically, and the vision was cleverly defined, even through their marketing.
Recommended reading: How to Write a Vision Statement (With Examples, Tips, and Formulas)
Redefine Organizational Values:
This is particularly applicable to older organizations that may have to update their values to reflect what the market is focused on, or as a way to differentiate themselves from competitors (banks can be a great example of this).
Organizational values can also encourage certain talent to join the organization, so this can also sometimes be a push for change.
Another example would be when there is a merger between organizations and their organizational values need to be amalgamated.
Employees would be ready to adapt and fit in with the organizational values. So, introduce a change in the cultural values of the organization and make it a culture of continuous improvement. The employees may respond positively to a new way of working if you introduce the new organizational value of continuous improvement.
Recommended reading: How to Create Company Values
Redefine Organizational Focus Areas:
Focus areas are more common through the change management process since this can often be the source of the change.
The shift in organizational focus areas will often dictate the level of change management required and set the pace therein. This will then have a domino effect on the organizational goals.
Recommended reading: Strategic Focus Areas: How to create them + Examples
Who Develops a Change Management Strategy Process?
As a general rule of thumb, change management tends to start at the top. This is a very broad response though, since in reality 'the top' might not necessarily refer to senior management.
The kind of change will determine who is involved in the strategy. As an example, if the change is significant across the organization, then it makes sense for senior management to be leading the change management strategy.
If the change is within a business function though, the strategy could be developed further down.
Let's say the design department is moving to a new suite of design software. Senior management would not need involvement and the head of the team + their supervisor might suffice. They would also want IT involved and maybe even HR for training.
Measuring Your Change Management Strategy?
Measuring the results of the strategy you take around change management will be heavily dependent on the type of organization you are.
We have an article on Change Management KPIs available for you to explore, to give you food-for-thought - your situation will dictate the way you measure.
Having said that, like any good strategic plan, your change management strategy should follow the familiar process we talk about in the 'How to Write a Strategic Plan: The Cascade Model".
You want to, at the very least, aim to develop a format where you have clear objectives, goals, and KPIs that will allow you to track the progress throughout the change.
Here are some helpful links:
Is your change management strategy in need of a tool that gives you complete visibility into its progress? Make sure to check out our list where we’ve gathered and analyzed the 7 best options for change and transformation leaders in 2022.
Change Management Strategy Recap
Change is a big thing, whatever your organization's size or business. So do not expect people to want change overnight (this is where the old 'a change is as good as a holiday' doesn't apply!).
You have to help them (and yourself) prepare for the change and to deal with it. Ensuring their participation in every stage of the change is the best way to be transparent and to convince them that the change will bring a positive outcome to them as well as the organization.
Ultimately, if you follow the outline above, you’ll be ahead of most in terms of having a strategic approach to the change management process, allowing you and your organization to adapt with agility and positivity. Apply this approach to your organization in our Free Change Management Strategy Template!