Seven Principles of Effective Change Management

Managing the people side of change involves one of the most unpredictable variables that you will ever encounter: people. Because each individual and department is different, it is not advisable to blindly follow a recipe or formula for change management. Take the time to carefully carve out a change management strategy and approach that meets the unique needs of each situation, and be prepared to switch it up from time to time as conditions change.

Here are seven guiding principles to the psychology of change:

Senders and Receivers 

Every change can be viewed from the perspective of a sender and a receiver. A sender is anyone providing information about the change. A receiver is anyone being given information about the change.

At the onset of a change, senders and receivers are often not in dialogue. A supervisor might enthusiastically and positively announce a major restructuring project. She may give all the information on why the change is necessary and how it will positively impact the organization, but an employee might hear something like “The company is in trouble,” or “My job is at risk.”

What the employee hears could be a result of several factors, such as other career plans, rumors from colleagues, their level of trust for the Sender, and personal relationships.

For this reason, I recommend that two primary senders communicate change messages within organizations; senior leadership and the employee’s immediate supervisor. Senior leaders should explain why the change is necessary, the risk of not changing, and how the change aligns with the organization’s vision and direction.

Supervisors should communicate about how the change impacts the employee and the team, as well as day-to-day responsibilities, and respond to the “What’s In It For Me?” (WIIFM) and “What’s In It For Us?” questions.

Resistance 

Change creates anxiety and fear. The current state has tremendous holding power, and the uncertainty of success and fear of the unknown can block change and create resistance. These physical and emotional reactions are powerful enough by themselves to create resistance to change, but there is more to resistance than our emotional response. For instance, there might be a concern about how change will impact the team’s work. The trustworthiness of the senders, personal factors, such as age and family status, and the organization’s history of handling change, also contribute to resistance.

The question, therefore, is not if resistance to change will be encountered, but rather how to support our employees through the change process to manage and mitigate that resistance.

Resistance is not a “problem employee” or a trouble area; if change is properly managed, resistance can be prevented and managed early and at its source, and employees will become engaged, enthusiastic and passionate about the change.

To manage resistance, do not react to it with surprise; expect and plan for it. Be patient with individuals and enable managers and business leaders to become effective change leaders. Assess resistance from an individual and organizational context.

Authority for Change 

A large percentage of projects have a senior leader named as the project sponsor, but they lack the true sponsorship required for success. Executive sponsors provide sufficient resources and funding for projects. They support the project in every business division and help employees understand the change being made and how it aligns with the organization. They also establish priorities between competing initiatives.

With these roles in mind, it is clear that executive sponsorship is a major success factor for change, and so the mere assignment of a senior leader as a sponsor does not constitute having effective sponsorship for your change.

Value Systems

Organizational value systems always impact the way change happens. What is important to the organization? How are decisions made? Who is in charge? What behaviors are rewarded and recognized? What is compensation based upon?

The answers to these questions vary from country to country, from industry to industry, from organization to organization and from department to department. It is critical for all change managers to understand the underlying values of their organizations because these factors directly influence the way change will be accepted and how much work will ultimately be required to ensure successful outcomes for the business.

Review value systems and conduct organizational attributes assessments, and then scale specific change management action plans that take into account the unique value systems of the impacted organizations. In addition to communication and training, change management must address both the organization and the individual.

Incremental vs. Radical Change

Incremental change encounters less resistance, because it breaks things down for employees so that they do not have to move too far from what they know. Radical change, on the other hand, is dramatic and thus responded to with greater resistance.

Usually, project teams focus on solutions. Change management makes it imperative to understand how much change or disruption is taking place, because it impacts how we will manage that change.

Change management cannot be tackled using a one-size-fits-all approach. The magnitude, disruption, gap, and size of change need to be understood in order to achieve the right approach to change management

The Right Answer Is Not Enough

Changes come to life through the work and behaviors of individuals in your organization. Simply coming up with the right solution is not enough to ensure that results are achieved. The right answer alone does not create buy-in or commitment, nor does it eliminate fear or ensure compliance.

To deliver value, a solution must be adopted and embraced by employees. Focusing only on developing the right answer will not result in lasting change.

Change Is a Process

Change occurs as a process, not as a singular event. Organizational change does not happen instantaneously because there was an announcement, a kick-off meeting or even a go-live date. Change must therefore be managed at both the individual and organizational level. Every individual must go through his or her own process of change before the organization as a whole is able to change. No individual will experience the change in the same way, and change management activities for the organization should be based on where individuals are in the change process.