Get this one thing right when you manage change.
Change management sounds complicated, the kind of thing you’d take a university course in. One should presumably understand various change models and have mastered change processes and have a variety of change management skills. This somewhat grandiose framing of change management is not wrong, just not that helpful. We can do better with a simpler perspective.
I think change management boils down to something like this: Talking to the people affected by the change. I like that simplicity but I might complicate it a little by changing it to: Having a dialogue with the people affected by the change, because it really does have to be a two-way dialogue, not an announcement. I might add one more complication to say: Having a dialogue with people directly and indirectly affected by change. The reason for mentioning “indirectly” is to force anyone leading change to think hard about who is affected.
The advantage of this simple framing is that it’s easy to teach and it clearly spells out what managers need to do. If people have grand ideas about change management I fear they’ll sit in their offices creating presentations and toying with project management software. If people have the simple idea that change management is about having a dialogue with those who are affected, then I’m confident they will be doing the single most important step in managing change.
Experts in change management will point out that I’ve left out the vast bulk of the subject. Someone leading change needs to be good at project management, they will need to use governance devices like steering committees, they need to be skilled in the techniques of persuasion and understand budgeting. Buy any text on change management and you will find loads of content.
However, those other aspects of change management are likely to be discovered by someone driving change; especially someone who has started driving change by pursuing a dialogue with the people directly and indirectly affected.
In my experience, the most common reason change fails is that people skip over the dialogue, assuming that it just slows things down. So when people ask you about change management, tell them to get going on dialogue with those directly and indirectly affected. Get that right and smart managers will figure out the rest.
David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research, www.creelmanresearch.com, in Canada. He works with a variety of organisations, academics, think tanks, consultancies and HR vendors in the Americas, Asia and Europe, and does research and consulting on analytics, the future of work and other cutting edge HR topics.
This article appeared in the November 2015 issue of HR Future magazine.