How to develop a Change Management Strategy

Why do we need a change management strategy?

Change Management as a practice is growing. More and more businesses understand the importance of the function, project and programme managers are appropriating risks and issues to change management requirements, stakeholders are more open to engaging with change practitioners, methodologies are maturing, and project proposals are highlighting the needs for change management.

Despite this however the practice of developing a change management strategy is often overlooked and as a result change managers themselves often face challenges of misalignment and scope management, which are the symptoms of poorly managed change.

Keep in mind that a strategy allows us the opportunity to define the objectives and approach prior to commencement. It enables us to agree what engagement is required and to define dependencies. The strategy allows us the opportunity to define success at this vital point. Considering how much is unknown, the strategy allows us to be vague enough to define required outcomes without defining exactly how it can be achieved.

Here are 6 simple steps to developing a strategy specific to your project

[Step 1]

Conduct a high level change Impact Assessment

As a starting point it is important to define the purpose and objectives of the project. This sounds simple but you will be amazed at how often senior stakeholders can have varied views of what needs to be done, why it needs to be done and how the changes can be achieved. Once these questions have been answered, establish what will need to change at a functional level to bring about the changes i.e. what will change for HR, finance, sales and marketing.

[Step 2]

Gain insight into the business and role players

As consultants we are often expected to know and understand more than is reasonable to expect and if we go along with this we run the risk of proceeding without the appropriate knowledge and understanding. To gain an appropriate understanding meet with as many of the key stakeholders who have been involved in scoping the project thus far as possible. Assess their overall alignment and understanding of the organisation and the impacts. Perspectives will not always align some might even clash but as you progress the picture will come together in your own mind and serve you well for the duration of your contract/time with the company.

[Step 3]

Align the above to who will be impacted and where they fit into the organisation

Considering what we have learned from step 1 and 2 let’s consider how this will apply across the organisation. Once we start to look at business units, regions, geographies and other components that make up the business as a whole, we begin to see some of the dynamics that are likely to unfold along the journey. It is important to set out the level of engagement required for each area of the business and decide on the approach required to achieve the alignment and mobilisation required. By level I am referring to the level of information that needs to be exchanged and aligned and in terms of approach I am referring to the way in which the messages can be conveyed for example will it be remote e-learning or will it be site visits and workshops.

At this point it is really important to recognise the value of providing each business area with a plan that will guide them to success and assure them that there will be the appropriate support. However I am personally of the opinion that each area needs to navigate their own path and need to make their own decisions regarding the path they will take. Being told what to do when, where and how is second only to no change management interventions at all and so the initial engagements need to demonstrate support and define objectives rather than dictate a meticulously planned set of actions. Thus the strategy allows for specific approaches to be customised and owned by the stakeholders who need to own the solution once the change manager or change team have left.

[Step 4]

Planning

By now we should be able to set out a well-informed plan of what will need to be achieved with each major stakeholder group. This ought to include, initial stakeholder engagement with business leaders, workshops required, presentations, overviews, and training requirements. For me there are 2 vital elements to cater for at this point:

[a] - Allocate extra time. Not all groups will buy in, catch on or mobilise at the same pace and although we can set deadlines we should not apply unnecessary pressure.

[b] - Work on the ideal time lines from a change management perspective before you consider aligning to the project plan. Very often project plans and deadlines are set prior to the change management plan being included and simply taking the perspective of a change journey will help you identify risks and issues of short cuts rather than coming up with a time based change plan. Once you have set out a journey, align that to the project plan and consider the project plan as change impacts to be catered for. In other words the “requirements gathering workshop” will require a level of awareness and understanding before the project can expect the ideal inputs from the staff participating. For this reason you can now align your awareness to be attained by that audience by that time and if this impedes on your timeline you can highlight the likely risks immediately.

[Step 5]

Provide an overview of what you will do to deliver change alignment

At the beginning of this overview I mentioned how the change management has grown and matured over the last few years. Although this is true, there is still a lot of ambiguity surrounding what we do, what project managers do and what constitutes behavioural change management. The change management strategy should include a fairly comprehensive view of the various interventions as well as the dependencies and risks associated with success and or failure. By highlighting risks you allow for mitigating factors and that can help justify the “open space” you have in your planning. The truth is that there is always something to be done and unless you allow for that you will be more efficient than effective.

[Step 6]

Get sign off

This step sounds straight forward however you need demonstrated commitment from all those you have engaged with. Ensure that at least the sponsor and Programme Management sign off on the strategy. Over and above it is a very good idea to get feedback from the other key stakeholders that you have engaged with up to now. Getting everyone to sign off is not going to be feasible, but try and get everyone to understand your strategy and what you are setting out to do.

You now have a great foundation and it is time to start your engagements!

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