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Basics of Change Management
ByBruno Collet

When an organization undergoes change, people are at the same time the subject and object of change. Updating structures, processes and tools facilitates changes but does not lead changes. People lead changes. The difficulty comes from the fact that we can’t change people willingly; we can’t say “now I will change you”. Change requires making people want to change and nurturing an environment where change can occur. Because change involves people taking initiatives and that the optimal solution is not known at the beginning (uncertainty), we can’t direct change. But we can and should manage it.

Models of Change Management

Lewin’s change management model depicts three phases that apply to any change. First we need to unfreeze, which means removing the constraints and generate the will to change. Second we have the change itself, where people reposition themselves according to the new objectives. Third there’s the refreeze, where the new situation becomes stable.

Change management also deals with people’s stress and the temporary negative effect of change. The change curve pictures the negative impact of change across time and shows that one of the main objectives of change management is to reduce negative effect during transition and to shorten the time needed to reach a new equilibrium. This is actually risk management: decrease the probability that risks materialize, and if they do, reduce their impact.

Change curve

Figure 1: Change Curve

Kotter’s 8-step change model is more specific regarding the actions to be taken for a change to occur as smoothly as possible.

  1. Create urgency
  2. Form a coalition
  3. Create a vision for change
  4. Communicate the vision
  5. Remove obstacles
  6. Create short-term wins
  7. Build on the change
  8. Anchor the change

Steps 1-to-5 fit into the “unfreeze” phase, steps 6 and 7 correspond to the “change” itself, and step 8 corresponds to the “refreeze” phase of Lewin’s model.

These models are useful but rather abstract. What should a change manager actually know and do? We can elaborate with the four areas of change management described in this 3-minute video.

  • Communication
    • What’s in it for me?
    • Stakeholder management: who are we (identity)? what are we here for?
  • Learning

    • Motivation: why should I care?
    • Knowledge and skills: what is it you want me to know? how should I do that?
    • Key instruments: community of practice, platform for sharing, training
  • Organization redesign

    • Reshuffling of responsibilities
    • Making up roles and functions
    • Physical change in the workplace
  • Performance measurement

    • What will it come down to in practice? What is the future state?
    • Meaningful measurements

Is Change Good for All Stakeholders?

I had my first encounter with change management many years ago, before I even knew change management existed. It involved changing the methodology and technology for software development. Large legacy software applications had to be converted from mainframe to modern technologies, and I had to train and coach developers so that they could rewrite the applications. As a result this would render a large portion of their skills irrelevant and create new demands in their job. At first sight, it doesn’t look like a good deal for them. Consider also that the change cannot be carried on without their collaboration and you get a measure of the problem.

This kind of consequence is unavoidable. By definition change will affect some people’s comfort and power in the organization. What can we do to keep these people motivated and with acceptable level of stress?

  • Guarantee job stability for a period of time long enough for them to learn the new skills and settle in their new roles.
  • Increase tolerance to mistakes and decreased efficiency during a period of time.
  • Emphasize that this is a chance to develop new, more marketable skills.

Setting Up a Project to Manage Change

As an endeavor with a start, an end, resources, and expected results, an organizational change should be structured as a project. I noticed many changes are carried in operational mode, which tends to be chaotic because it doesn’t explicitly address concerns such as cost management, quality management, schedule management, procurement, and so on. In a change project, often called a transformation project, the most critical area is risk management. Indeed as mentioned before there is a great deal of uncertainty to be dealt with. In project management, risks are “known unknowns”, which means that we have identified areas of uncertainty and, although we don’t yet have a solution for these risks, we can manage them. Unfortunately there are also “unknown unknowns”, which means that some risks have not been identified yet. By balancing discipline and flexibility appropriately, I believe Agile project management is well suited to deal with transformation projects.

Bruno Collet combines business acumen with technology know-how. His successful track record comprises Daimler-Chrysler, Siemens, and Loto-Quebec, with roles such as management consultant, project manager, SAP consultant, and software architect. Bruno Collet’s skills are firmly grounded in academic excellence by achieving an MBA at John Molson School of Business and a Master of Computer Science. He maintains a professional website:brunocollet.com.

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