The field of change management is one that is widely written about but is apparently really hard to do. In fact, 70% of all organizational changes fail according to McKinsey & Co. Given that most organisations are currently in a constant state of change due to all sorts of reasons this number does raise some concerns. But let’s not judge too hasty and first take a look at the process of change.

Organisational change or change management is a structured approach filled with tools and techniques for ensuring that a desired change within the organisation happens smoothly and successfully with all the desired, and lasting, outcomes. Often this happens in a project management environment.

Harvard professor John Kotter defined 8 steps to a successful change:

Kotter's 8 step change model

Let’s take a look at the 8 steps separately:

1. Increase or creating urgency: understanding the WHY 

In order to get people motivated to change they will need to understand the basic necessity of doing so. Of course the tactics in doing so will differ depending on the type of change, organisation and culture but here are the basic elements in creating change awareness:

  • You will need to have all your statistics in place (sales and cost figures, market share, increase in completion, number of customer complaints, etc.).
  • Create a culture of open and regular dialogue. If people understand, know and feel the statistics, they will also understand the need to change if the numbers are not up to target. Preferably, team members will even feel (and be) responsible to have the numbers go up.
  • If the change is an outside decision, use the managers, shareholders or customers that drive the change in creating the urgency; they should then be the ones on the soapbox in front of everyone.

2. Create a guiding coalition: setting up the WHO

Changing an organization requires change leaders. These will not just be the manager(s) involved but you need a whole team of people who all have some sort of influence in the company. Ideally, the group consists of a variety of people from different backgrounds, ages, departments and personality types.

This step is all about forming the team and ensuring the emotional commitment to making the change happen.

3. Develop a vision for change: get started on the WHAT

Developing a clear vision and from that form the strategy to get there will add to the sense of direction that is needed and shape the rest of the project.

For vision development I always like to first take a good look at where we are right now. From there I move to the future; what does that look like and how is it to be there? Really dive into the emotional side of things here! From here it becomes relatively simple to develop a mission or strategy to move forward.

To ensure the biggest buy-in as possible include as many people as possible!

4. Communicate the vision: get your MESSAGE across

Now is the time to think hard and long about how you are going to communicate the desired change vision. You will need to communicate frequently and powerfully but you will also need to be really careful to not spam or sound propaganda-ish.

There is an art to the right way of communicating and this is different in every situation. Your message can come in plain e-mails, company-wide meetings, wearing change team T-shirts or in messages and blogs on the intranet. No matter the form, you need to figure out what works for your situation. You will need to ‘feel’ and understand the company culture and know how people will react to certain messages. You will need to address people’s concerns and you will need to be honest in how these will be addressed.

5. Empower people to act on the vision: creating the STRUCTURE for change

Even with a clear vision, a dedicated team and great communication it will be difficult to actually do the change. Hopefully you have been able to motivate all stakeholders and are they ready to go but what if 1 or 2 or 3 or more people are resisting change? What if other projects, processes or systems are in the way of a smooth transition?

This is where you put a structure in place that you will continuously manage and guard:

  • Make sure you’ve got the right people in the right places
  • Create ambassadors that are separate from your core change team but work in the process or department
  • Look at your organisational structure and the accompanying roles and responsibilities
  • Ensure your performance and compensation systems are in line with the vision
  • Create a stakeholdermap and continuously manage the people that are not in line

6. Create Short Term Wins: gain QUICK RESULTS

Quick wins are the best! Not only do they deliver results but they are big motivators as well. Plan a separate track in your project plan specifically for quick wins and start generating results on a regular basis.

  • Search for ‘low hanging fruit’; improvements that are easy and cheap to realise
  • Involve as many people as possible throughout the various quick wins but try to get some results in without needing to involve strong opponents of the change
  • Use the results of the quick wins in your communications

7. Consolidate and Build on the Gains: ensure CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT

This step is here to ensure you do not celebrate overall success too soon. Usually a program or project ends as soon as the new system, new way of working or whatever is Live. Usually this is only the start of the actual change…

Long-term change means doing that what you have changed for a number of times, weeks or months. To make sure the change continues to to sip through the organisation you will need to:

  • Make sure you continuously manage you daily operational performance
  • Ensure that a system for continuous improvement is in place; that you know what to improve when and how to do it
  • Continue celebrating and communication the results

8. Institutionalise the Change: make the change STICK

That whatever has been changed needs to become integral part of your organisation. This is where the change stops being something different but becomes normal daily operations for everyone. This is not entirely effortless though; you will still need to be making conscious efforts in all major communications.

The key takeaway here is that change management needs to be a continuous and fluid part of any minor and major organisational change. It starts before the projects starts and it keeps on going even when the program or project has already ended.

Of course there is much more to change management as it is all about changing people and the proof of these steps is, as they say, in the pudding!

I’d love to hear from you

Are you in the field of Change Management? Do you use other steps? Have any crazy experiences? Share in the comments below!