7 Steps to Perfect Change Management

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If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. — Lao Tzu

Change management and project management are closely aligned. Project managers can (and should) act as change managers.

Without proper change management, any proposed change might not have the desired effect.

However, there are some key differences between the two types of management.

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What are the differences between change and project management, and how do they overlap?

At its heart, change management manages the people involved in making change happen, focusing on them rather than on tasks. Its overall goal is to encourage individuals to commit to the change happily, and it is concerned with readiness among people affected by the change.

Another way of putting it is to say that change management seeks to “minimize the impacts and to maximize the benefits” of change. A change manager tracks the progress of individuals’ readiness. Change management applies procedural structures to help employees make smooth transitions, give them the chance to get engaged, and facilitate them growing closer as a team.

Led primarily, if not exclusively, from the executive level, change management has three main processes: planning, direction, and reinforcement. Within these processes, which usually require immediate steps be taken by employees, there are tasks that are often small-scale and gradual. In order to achieve its goal of moving employees towards familiarity and comfort with change, change management uses tools like change models, coaching, and resistance management.

On the other hand, project management manages the activities or tasks involved in change, as opposed to the people. Its goal is to carry an organization through a change in state—from unchanged to changed—but it also has distinct goals that come from external agents.

Project management concerns itself with the schedule, quality, and budget of implementing change and tracks the progress of the expected outcome. While a project often has a designated project manager, project managers can work from all the levels of a company’s hierarchy. Project management has a fairly well-established progression, with five main processes: “Planning; Initiation; Execution; Direction; and Closing.”  The project’s smaller tasks fall into a comprehensive scope and happen on a pre-assigned timeline.  It uses tools like project management software, resource allocation, and performance reports. Project management is structured around activities that put resources into play to further change.

Project management considers its process to be finished when its goals and deliverables are completed.

With all that said, let’s jump into our guide. Follow these seven steps to implement a sure-fire change management system in your company.

1. Decide that change is necessary.

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Identifying just what needs to be changed is the biggest part of change management. What is threatening your company? What long-term goals will not be met unless change is implemented?

Use systems like Objectives and Key Results or SMART Goals to make sure your changes are specific, measurable, and realistic. Use your goals as a roadmap to move your organization to the next step. Document them.

And lastly, start building buzz at your company about what changes will be taking place.  You’ll need your coworkers’ and employees’ support in order for your change to be fully successful.

2. Garner executive support.

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According to DeAnne Aguirre and Micah Alpem at Strategy + Business, “Although it’s important to engage employees at every level early on, all successful change management initiatives start at the top, with a committed and well-aligned group of executives strongly supported by the CEO.” In other words, start at the top. Get fellow executives behind your change and ideas.

Filter their feedback and support into actionable items—and solicit feedback not just before, but also during and after the change. Be sure you’re able to communicate your vision in five minutes or less, and be prepared to answer questions your colleagues might have.

3. Make a change management plan and create allies.

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Using your goals, put your project management skills to work. Determine what needs to be completed by when, and what tasks are necessary for each deadline. Use Gantt charts, task management tools, and change management guidelines to outline exactly how your company is going to move forward.

While creating your plan, you’ll likely have to engage every level of the business hierarchy. Determine who in your business would make good change leaders. Figure out who your change sponsors—or cheerleaders across the company—should be. Based on these leaders’ teams and impact on the company, assign them tasks with clear deadlines and relationships to the bigger project.

4. Don’t forget about training and support.

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As your plan begins to take effect, you will likely find that many employees will need training to accommodate the changes made to your company. Experienced change managers know to look for this from the beginning: as Kate Everson writes for Chief Learning Officer, “Many change initiatives require a shift in workforce skills… [change managers] need to work with project managers to make sure they have the learning they need to deliver.”

As you outline how your organization will change with your plan, look for skills gaps that employees might have. Create a system that will ensure that employees with new responsibilities are ready.

5. Communicate status throughout the change.

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Every project and change manager should be clear, concise, and concrete in their regular communication to their change leaders, change sponsors, and to their colleagues.

According to Resilium, “We tend to be more accepting of change when we actively participate in it, so try to get employees involved in the process as early as possible. This might involve holding information sessions, providing regular updates in the staff newsletter or putting a chart together that explains your key objectives and milestones.”

In other words, constant communication with everyone at your company is essential. It’s a part of stakeholder management—and because every employee is likely directly impacted by the change, regular communication is imperative.

For example, Capterra is aiming to more than double in size this year. That means big changes across the company—from meeting spaces to new budgets to changing employee responsibilities. So on the first Wednesday of every month, the company gets together to greet new faces, play team-building games, go over each team’s successes, and explain the growth the company has seen over the past month.

Believe me when I say it’s inspirational—and focuses employees on their tasks at hand.

6. Track your progress.

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Everyone loves success metrics. They not only act as a motivator, but also can act as a spotlight on areas that need improvement. Whether you’re using OKRs or change management software like Spiceworks or eChangeManager, make sure that you have a way of measuring your success.

Be sure to reward important agents of change along the way, even for small successes. Doing so will keep overall morale high and excitement for your project continual.

7. Be flexible.

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Even though you might be using the most robust risk management plan at your disposal, unexpected changes can still affect your project.

Whether it’s a sudden change of personnel or an unexpectedly poor quarter, keep yourself adaptable enough to apply the appropriate changes to your plan to accommodate your company’s new needs.

While you should be steadfast in your final goal, be aware that every business faces these problems. And it’s up to you to push through these issues and make the best decisions for yourself, your team, and your company.

More?

Have you experienced major changes at your company? Did you have a change manager or project manager at the helm? What was your experience?

And for change and project managers: what tips haven’t I shared here? What experiences can you share for new change managers?

Share a few sentences on what you would recommend in the comments below!

Images by Abby Kahler

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About the Author

Rachel Burger

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Rachel is a content strategist for Targetprocess, a project management tool dedicated to scalable and accessible visual management. She specializes in project management tips, tools, and tricks, and continues to play a foundational role in recognizing and strategizing for the future of Agile in the workplace. On the rare occasion Rachel isn't writing, she's reading, hiking, jogging, or spending time with her friends and family.

Comments

Good points above. Communication and buy-in are crucial. Also:

1) Start out as simple as possible, i.e. of limited scope with some folks that are already on board.
2) Use software tools to automate processes.

The best point pertains to flexibility.

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