Organizational Change Management: Is Change Management About People or Process?
All organizations are undergoing some form of change. The world of work, with its accelerated change and uncertainty, is grappling with organizational change management. A few organizations are managing change well, but most not doing it well at all. very well at all. Why is this? After all, there is plenty of information and a plethora of books on change out there to reference, not to mention advise from consultants like me!
I think the reason so many organizations fail to manage change successfully comes down to a simple underlying assumption. Change is about people, not processes. In other words, we should be more interested in changing the thinking and behavior of people, rather than the processes, systems, and procedures that are undergoing change.
Often the reason for the change is to alter the way business is conducted. For example, implementing a new customer relationship management system alters the business environment; or, to venture into a new market; or, restructure the organization; or, merge two companies, and so on.
But the success or otherwise of the change is whether employees (and managers) can change sufficiently enough to accommodate the changes in processes. The concentration on the people is where most organizational change management fails.
Organizational Change Management Program
All the attention is typically on project managing the process or system. Very little, if anything, is done to change the attitude, skills, and knowledge of the people who are expected to adopt the new change. This is the essence of most organizational change management programs.
This is made worse because usually the change incubates at senior management levels and by the time the change initiative is to be rolled-out to the organization, the executive is completely sold on the change, if not emotionally attached.
But they completely underestimate the extent of commitment from employees about the need for change. And because of this, they don’t invest sufficient time, effort, and resources into changing the mindsets of the people who are expected to adopt and successfully implement the change. This is a costly mistake.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the way people react to change is 100 per cent predictable; whether it is positive or negative change. For example, if you received a call to inform you that you had won $4,000,000 is Lotto, you would move through four emotional stages of change in the same way that receiving a phone call from the school Principal about your child’s poor behavior. Both examples are about change, one positive and the other negative.
Organizational change management is no different. It’s certainly more complex, and involves more people, but the reactions of the employees are identical to these two examples.
Consider the four emotional stages of change:
Whenever we are faced with change, the natural first emotion is denial. We often fail to embrace the magnitude of the change and dismiss it quickly. If someone from the Lotto office called you to congratulate you on winning a large sum of money, you first reaction would be to challenge the caller and assume it is a hoax.
If the school Principal called you about your child’s poor behaviour (unless you were aware if it), you would initially be in a state of denial.
Then you get angry or at the very least a little confused about the change. Once you realised that the Lotto call was real, you would momentarily realise that your life will be forever different. Everything will change.
Of course, this feeling of confusion wouldn’t last long, but it would happen. At the end of the phone call with the Principal, you would naturally want to blame someone or something for your child’s poor behaviour. Why didn’t the school contact me earlier? What sort of discipline (or lack of discipline) has allowed this situation to occur? And so on.
The next emotional stage of change is exploration. What does this change mean for me? Is the key question at this stage. How am I going to deal with this set of circumstances? You consider the $4,000,000. What will I spend the money on? Will I tell others? With the school Principal, you would consider your next step. Should I come into the school and speak to the Principal first? Or, should I confront my child and get their story first?
The final emotional response to change it commitment. Obviously winning Lotto will guarantee your commitment to the change. But what about the Principal? It will probably take some time, but you will surely look back on that phone call as a turning-point. Undoubtedly certain actions and pain will follow. But long-term, some positives will come of this difficult situation.
Perhaps it will mean taking more interest in your children’s education from this point on. Or, it might mean that your son or daughter got a fright and changed their behaviour for the better. We all gain a fresh perspective when we reflect on turning points in our lives.
Change management in organizations is no different. If we master the four emotional stages of change I have just outlined here, then we have managed the change successfully. An organizational change management program needs to consider the emotional stages of change.