With these building blocks, establish a function focused exclusively on change management.
Does your employer spend a lot of time, resources, and money on designing new procedures, policies, or technologies, only to have them not take root? Is the company facing multiple changes and seeing lower engagement results, fatigued staff who are having a hard time keeping up, or sustained lower performance? Does the organization have a history and reputation for failed changes? Has it tried to make the same change more than once with lackluster results? Do employees have a hard time leading self through changes? Do leaders struggle to diagnose resistance and sponsor changes?
If any of those scenarios sound familiar, a change management function can remedy those ailments. To enable a company to take on the velocity and pace of change required in today's environment, a change management function focuses on three key areas: building staff and leader ability to lead self and others through change, applying expert change management to organizational change, and using enterprise-wide data and metrics to understand how the company is performing as a whole through change.
To effectively build organizational competency, a company must align on a change management methodology. The methodology will serve as the language the company uses to talk about change, the process it uses to apply change management to programs, and the standard by which it measures and governs change.
Having a decentralized function results in change management chaos with different lexicons, standards, and measures. While such a model may help organizations drive greater results and outcomes for individual programs, the lack of standardization makes it impossible to upskill employees and leaders in their ability to lead self and others through change and have enterprise-wide metrics. Likewise, it will not enable companies to increase agility through change.
If a centralized change management function isn't possible from the start, a hub and spoke model is a compromise. For that model, the hub must select and enforce adherence to an enterprise change management methodology and standards. Building a strong community with the spokes is the best recipe for success.
To establish a change management practice, follow four essential steps:
- Assess and align.
- Plan and build.
- Measure and improve.
Assess and align
Start by identifying and enrolling the change management function's primary sponsor. Without the strong support of a primary sponsor, the change management function will not be successful. Be sure the individual is willing to roll up their sleeves and support the function in words, action, and funding. The primary sponsor is the most senior executive in the reporting line that reports to the CEO. A change management function best aligns with the C-suite member who is ultimately accountable for strategy development and execution.
After identifying that individual, determine where your organization currently is and how quickly it wants to mature its change management capability. To set the proper plan in motion, establish a baseline, and know the end game. Take a maturity assessment to know where your organization is and where the primary sponsor believes it needs to go (see sidebar), and then ensure there is alignment with the primary sponsor on the path forward for the change management function.
Because the primary sponsor will ultimately set expectations and funding, the change management functional leader must be in alignment with the sponsor on the change management function's goal and the pace of the maturity journey.
Next, identify and enroll other senior leaders as part of the sponsorship coalition. As explains Daryl Conner, a renowned leader in the field of organizational change, strategy execution should comprise both the installation and the realization of change. Organizations are best served when those functions operate together. For example, in many companies, the person accountable for strategy execution is the chief administrative officer or the COO. Further, the chief human resources officer, as the primary people function leader, and the chief financial officer, as the person who is most interested in ensuring return on investment, are excellent secondary sponsors due to their respective accountabilities.
In addition to primary and secondary executive sponsors, establish a broader base of sponsorship among individuals who report to the C-suite.
Plan and build
Select or create an enterprise methodology that supports the organization's vision for change management. The methodology should include the process or steps to take to move the company from the current to the future state and often comprises models that showcase how individuals move through change, how to manage through resistance, how leaders lead through change, and how to measure change. The methodology should also consist of assessments and tools to drive change adoption.
Having an enterprise-wide methodology is foundational even if your organization isn't seeking the highest levels of change maturity. At a minimum, the company should anchor on a change management lexicon. The most important criteria for a methodology, whether the organization purchases one off the shelf or develops its own, are supporting the execution of change initiatives and being easy for people to remember and operationalize with little instruction. The methodology must serve the individual in leading self through change, the leader in leading others through change, and the practitioner in leading an initiative to successful adoption.
To determine how the change management function will operate, create its operating model and structure. A centralized function is both a doer and a thinker. Centralized functions own the methodology, set standards, develop and facilitate enterprise-wide training to build individual and leader capability, and help organizations understand how they are performing through change.
In the first 12–24 months of a new change management practice:
- Offer courses for individuals to know how to better lead themselves through change and for leaders to know how to effectively sponsor change and lead others through change.
- Ensure the organization's top three to five priorities have expert change practitioners driving those changes.
- Begin to introduce change management insights via data and metrics to help senior leaders optimize decision making.
Within 12 months, a change practice may be able to offer senior leaders new insights into the overall change saturation of the organization or specific stakeholder groups, the change adoption risk profile of the organization's strategic portfolio, and how well certain initiatives are tracking toward achieving adoption goals.
If using a hub and spoke model, this is where the centralized hub does all the above tasks but also works with change practitioners within other functional areas to get and keep them aligned to the methodology, standards, and practices. The goals of this operating model are the same as a centralized function but also include forging a community of practice with functional practitioners to ensure they are skilled in the change management methodology and achieve the right outcomes.
Another aspect of planning and building a new change management function is determining how it will interact with other potentially more established functions, such as program or project management, communications, and L&D. For example, the change management function should serve as the primary partner to the program management office. While that office is focused on designing and developing changes, the change management function is focused on adopting those changes. Likewise, a close partnership with the internal communications and L&D teams is beneficial because communications and training are subdisciplines of change management. A best practice is for partners from communications and training to work with the change management practitioner on the overall development and execution of the change management and adoption plan.
Based on the function's operating model and structure, develop a staffing plan. At a minimum, create an initial 18-month plan to show maturation for the change management function. A three-year plan will help showcase how the company can move up a maturity model one to two levels. A good rule of thumb for proper resourcing of a change management function is one change practitioner per one to two projects. Someone dedicated to establishing standards, governance, and gathering enterprise metrics and insights is also advised.
Launching the practice is a fantastic opportunity to show the workforce how great change management is done. The L&D and internal communications teams should think through how best to roll out the change management practice. The tactics in the change and adoption plan should start at the top—leverage the sponsors to announce the function. An effective change and adoption plan gets employees excited about the practice and helps them to learn more about the methodology and to support the model.
Use the company's intranet to communicate information about the new change management function, and direct employees to the webpage via the company newsletter. A formal announcement via a town hall meeting is another way to inform the workforce. An effective method to draw people into the practice is to start enrolling them in change management training. In addition to instructor-led courses, offer training in other formats such as e-learning, podcasts, or short videos.
Over time, the change plan should include stories about wins. For example, highlight data that demonstrates improvement in how the organization is performing through change. When starting a new function, it's important to have happy internal customers who will then be repeat customers and tell others how great the function is. An internal change practice is like an internal consultancy—it only survives if it has happy internal clients or customers.
Also develop a thoughtful plan to keep the sponsors engaged, whether they are sharing how change management made a difference for a particular initiative or explaining how they are incorporating change management language or models and how that is helping performance.
Measure and improve
At a minimum, establish a set of measures to understand how individual change initiatives are performing. That should include understanding what part of the initiatives' measures are dependent on people adopting the solution and knowing whether the change management plan delivered that adoption.
To truly add value to the organization and provide new data to help executives optimize their decision making, the change management function should provide insights around how individuals and leaders are handling change and how the company overall is performing.
For instance, a people measure could revolve around individuals' capability to lead self and others through change and leaders' ability in sponsoring change. If your employee engagement survey has a baseline on those topics, start there. If not, start by asking employees their sentiments. For example, on a scale of 1-5, rate how well you believe:
- Leaders of leaders manage resistance, lead others through change, and successfully drive change adoption.
- People leaders manage resistance, lead others through change, and successfully drive change adoption.
- Individual contributors lead themselves through change by managing their own resistance.
Plan to measure that annually to gauge whether the training strategy is working. Ask questions during initial change assessments for projects that the change management function is supporting, or ask them via an enterprise-wide survey.
Gain a baseline understanding of the organization's reputation for change. That is an important attitudinal measure. If employees believe the company isn't great at leading through and sustaining change, that makes it difficult to successfully drive new change. A poor perception can lead to resistance from the start, whereas an organization with a solid reputation for delivering change has a greater likelihood of achieving adoption. That is another annual measure that can be a proof point for a successful change management function.
As for organizational measures, change saturation is an important change management metric. Start by understanding how much change the organization can take on and still operate successfully. Discussion should be around the level of change the company is capable of: Is that amount of change sufficient to achieve the organization's goals? If not, how will the company increase capacity for change? After setting the change saturation level, knowing whether the organization is above or below that line helps with timing and sequencing of initiatives.
A change adoption risk profile is another holistic measure and is complementary to change saturation. This measure helps an organization understand how many low-, medium-, and high-risk initiatives (from a change adoption perspective) it is trying to achieve. Is that the optimal mix? What would happen if the organization added another low-, medium-, or high-risk initiative? Would that put other initiatives at risk, or would the company still be successful?
Overall, establishing baseline measures and setting goals for the function to improve on them is an important part of the change management plan for the function.
The only constant is change
Setting up a change management function is a competitive advantage. It can help an organization facilitate a conversation around adoption rates for individual initiatives, employees' and leaders' skill level in their ability to lead themselves and the organization through change, employee perception of how the company performs during times of change, change saturation, and change adoption risk. In doing so, it will be well positioned to become a valuable contributor to executive-level decision making.
Change Maturity Assessment
A proper maturity audit should seek to understand elements of the change management practice such as whether the process is consistent, effective, efficient, easy to follow, and being followed and whether the inputs are of good quality, how well the process works with affiliated teams, and how the process and quality are measured. Plot those elements against a five-point maturity scale that progress across these five stages of maturity:
- Initial—processes within the practice are ad hoc and chaotic.
- Managed—processes within the practice are controlled or implemented in a managed fashion.
- Defined—processes within the practice are well characterized; everyone understands them; and they are formally described in activities, procedures, tools, and methods.
- Quantitatively managed—processes within the practice significantly contribute to overall process performance.
- Optimizing—the practice continuously improved to meet relevant current and projected enterprise goals and objectives.