The Human Factor and Successful Organizational Change Management

To effect successful change at the organizational level, you must also lead change at the individual level. That’s not to say that the technical management of change isn’t important. It surely is, as that is where you design, develop, and deliver the change using all the project management tools available to you. However, your organizational change undertaking will fail to produce the intended benefit if it isn’t embraced and adopted by your people.

Organizational change is not just changing what’s done, but how it’s done and the structure around it. For example, a department store chain that decides to sell a new product doesn’t have an organizational change management (OCM) challenge. But if it decides to go to a predominately web-based market approach and get rid of its brick and mortar stores then it does have an OCM challenge.

Organizational change challenges can also be found in the public sector. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in late 2017 said it would innovate, consolidate, and rearrange certain offices into more “logical organizational reporting structures”. USDA’s mission hasn’t changed, but how it carries out that mission, how it’s organized, and reporting lines under the new structure will change. That’s an OCM challenge, too.

Structured OCM Approach: Projects, Leaders, and Change

Leading and managing change – like any organizational undertaking – is best accomplished with a deliberate, structured approach. Combining project management (the technical side of change) with active engagement and sponsorship (the leadership aspect), as well as change management (the people side of change) is how organizations realize effective change. Understanding the relationship between these requirements is critical to realizing lasting change.

  1. Project Management: Organizational change routinely requires the application of proven project-management techniques. Leader support and employee understanding of the plan is critical to any organizational change undertaking.
  2. Leadership/Sponsorship Support: Leaders must set expectations, tie the change to the strategic objectives of the business, and communicate their commitment to the change.
  3. Change Management: The people targeted for change must understand the change that is coming, how it will impact their day-to-day activities, and how it supports the overall organization improvement.

Organizational Change: The Leadership Element

The most successful organizational change efforts historically enjoyed clear and consistent leader sponsorship; most failed organizational change efforts did not. It is critical for all members of the organization to understand and believe that executive sponsors will actively and visibly work to not only reinforce the change but also celebrate success at the individual and organizational level.

These leaders have a variety of tools at their disposal. At the organizational level these include readiness assessments, communication plans, sponsor roadmaps, and coaching/training/resistance management plans.

Fundamentally, organizational change leaders must answer two questions. How ready is my organization for change? How do I address resistance to the change?

These are more than academic questions. Consider a frequent scenario in application development, where a great product was not used as effectively or comprehensively as hoped even though it was delivered on time, had all the bells and whistles, and had potential to significantly improve the business’ capabilities. That’s likely because users didn’t embrace/adopt the changes wrought by the new application. Leaders who assess the organization’s readiness for change and take a thoughtful approach to resistance management are increasing the likelihood that the change will be both effective and long lasting.

The Role of a Change Readiness Assessment in Gauging Individual and Organizational Receptiveness

It helps to first understand exactly how receptive your organization is to change. Change leaders frequently use a change readiness assessment (CRA). The CRA content and form varies for each organization and project but is typically designed to allow change leaders to:

  • Determine the readiness of the organization to deliver change and sustain benefits;
  • Provide analysis of areas that are supportive/resistant, and to what degree;
  • Inform the targeting of actions to optimize readiness, and enable the achievement of sustained benefits;
  • Enable readiness to be tracked, and monitor improvements to achieve change readiness.

A CRA typically employs a list of assessment questions, often arranged into three to four distinct categories. These can include change management, leadership/sponsorship, and project management, or overall organizational readiness, department/group readiness, and individual readiness. However the assessment questions are organized, CRA responses should give you a ranking and score that shows your organization’s readiness for change.

Experienced change leaders complete the CRA before they begin implementing the actual change plan; this minimizes the risk to organizational change efforts. When employed early in the overall change experience, an effective CRA can help refine the elements of the plan, including communications, sponsorship, training, and resistance management approaches. The results should also shape the structure and frequency of employee feedback during implementation.

Managing Resistance: Understanding Cause and Effect

Organizational change often makes people the targets of change, which is why the most common individual response to change is resistance. Managing change for a single individual requires an understanding of the nature and sources of resistance, and the way resistance may be manifested explicitly and implicitly over the course of the change process. Sources of individual resistance frequently include:

  • Habit
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Selective information processing
  • Security
  • Economic concerns

Additionally, a lack of awareness or understanding of the need for change at the individual level can result in resistance.

“At any point you can come up against a barrier,” explained Sila Managing Director Kelly Spivey. “For example, if someone doesn’t know that their project is over budget then they won’t have the awareness of the need for change. Or maybe they have the awareness and desire to change but don’t have the knowledge to change. You need to have the knowledge about how to change to implement change.

“You run the risk of having a great product go fallow if you don’t apply your soft skills in the user community. Change management is about applying the tools and philosophies that allow you to understand where your users’ heads are relative to the organizational change you desire. Who are the advocates? Where are the pockets of resistance? Why are they resisting? Do they have the awareness, desire, and knowledge to effect change?”

In some cases, training may be required to reduce resistance. In others active leadership and supervision may be necessary. Regardless it is critical for leaders to understand individual inclination to adopt (or resist) the change, develop realistic approaches to address these concerns, and develop feedback loops to continually assess resistance.

Planning, implementing, and ensuring the adoption of positive organizational change is fundamentally a human activity, requiring understanding and active, inspired leadership. By focusing on the people component of change management, leaders can understand the readiness of the organization for change and manage the resistance that is inevitable with any human change – individual or organizational.

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