What is change management?

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Change Management is a relatively new discipline. It came out of the realisation that you need to work with and change people if you want them to use technology in a way that improves how they work. Seems a bit basic? Yet the professional literature is littered with technology investments where users just didn’t get the point of a change. They weren’t supported, encouraged, trained, coached or incentivised to understand and take advantage of the new thing. And so, they didn’t. As a result, organisations lost money.

Projects are uncertain

The Standish Group are probably the most famous example of academics and thinkers trying to get a grasp on why this is. They make their money by selling access to their findings, and I haven’t paid for 2020’s research. Their most famous finding back in 1994’s Chaos Report was that only 16.2% of IT projects were completed on time, to quality expectations, and to budget expectations.

And the 2019 figure was put at 16.1%. If you think about this, this is years after Agile became a thing, with companies being able to adjust their requirements mid-stream, or change their resourcing.

Go back in a year and see what’s being used

There is a flaw in the way change projects are delivered and managed in at the level of the organisation. Change is normally delivered as a project, “a short life working group of people brought together for specific purposes for a short time period to achieve a specific goal”. A project which becomes permanent isn’t a project and it certainly hasn’t been successful. The project manager leaves as soon as the project is closed. But benefits aren’t clear by then.

The project sponsor is meant to drive returns over the longer period. Good organisations make these reviews happen, often through an audit or PMO function. One of my clients is Scottish Water, and they understand benefit management. Others don’t – and it’s these organisations which are wasting money.

Change Management comes from the same root of spotting a disconnect between a spend and the return on the spend. And it costs much less than running projects which only hit the mark one in five times.

What’s in it for me and why should I care?

When you stop to think about it, it shouldn’t be too surprising that if you change something on someone without their active consent, they’re going at the very least to ignore you and at the worst fight back against your imposition. Therefore you increase your chances of success when you explain benefits and understand the people you work with.

Spelling out “What’s in it for me?” – often summarised as WIIFM – shouldn’t be something you shy away from asking, or answering. Change is also emotional.

Four key points of difference

For me, change management has four key features which mark it out from straightforward communications and old style classroom training. These are:

  1. Explicitly expect resistance from adopters, calling that out from the front and planning to overcome the resistance. Resistance Management.
  2. Create as many pull factors as possible to drive adoption. Push factors are do this because management wants it to happen. Build a library of appropriate case studies which make it clear WIIFM. What’s in it for me?
  3. Invest heavily in coaching and mentoring selected key groups of early adopters in the first phases of a change. Bias your spend to early adopters at the expense of others. Adoption is a snowball: it’s about doing the hard work to get the snowball up to a decent size, positioning at the top of a slope and then giving it one final push before gravity takes over and it accumulates more bulk on its way down the hill. Most change management theories I’ve seen have this emphasis on creating a wave of positivity, of peer pressure and enthusiasm among around 30 to 40% of staff being enough to lift all of the workforce. Early Adopters
  4. Set up Change Champions/ Ambassador Programmes, involving enthusiastic and helpful people you can nurture and reward through coaching and mentoring. These people act as your amplifiers in their teams, so that your messages come from them not you. People trust their peers, people like them, not strangers. Change Champions

Change Management features

Change ManagementCommunicationsTraining
Intensive support for Change Champions (5-6 sessions)Not coaching, just one way Tends to be one size-fits-all available once
Intensive Support for Early Adopters (5 -6 sessions)Messaging rather than mentoringOld style is to insist on mandatory classroom training
Focused training on early adopters, early majority.Tends to go to all staff, not as targetedTime-consuming and resource intensive
Resistance management plan, but less concern for “laggards” and belief in momentum/ critical massComms can target “laggards” but could seem hectoringNeed not to be able to offer training for laggards they would attend
Peer to peer encouragement/ support Comms from strangerTrainer an outsider

What are the main theories?

Prosci is the most influential in this space. They created a methodology known as ADKAR. You may be familar with the mnemonic AIDA, which I first read as a communications and marketing specialist. AIDA in this context stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action, which is what you want consumers to do.


ADKAR standards for Attention, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement.

Microsoft Service Adoption Professional

I’ve been working for the last three years in maximising value from MS products for a range of clients, including Scotland’s main water supplier, Scottish Water. The Service Adoption Professional qualification is a summation of the developing knowledge in this field and is well worth hunting out, particularly as it’s free.

This posits that there are six dimensions to delivering a change which will be sebsequently well-adopted.

The key insight is not new, but does apply to all sizes of organisation. IT alone can’t deliver change.

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