Change Management is not meant to be a closely guarded secret, yet few understand the full extent of its application and impact. This two-part blog series is aimed at clarifying the role of change management and how to recognize and understand the best applications for a multitude of situations, because as Heraclitus says, “The only thing that is constant is change.”
“The Only Thing that is Constant is Change” – Heraclitus
Between ongoing disruptions in technology, acquisitions and divestitures, regulatory changes and organizational restructuring, today’s companies are in a constant state of upheaval. Every change impacts productivity and there is a growing understanding that businesses need help through periods of evolution. That’s where change managers come in, who are skilled at assessing impacts and identifying and implementing suitable activities to help transition the organization to their new normal.
Despite the heightened interest in managing change, I’m constantly amazed at how little understanding there is of what change managers do or how they add value. Time and again it is said that “50-70% of change initiatives fail.”  I can’t help thinking that the misuse of change resources is a contributing factor. The starting point is for clients to understand the complete scope of change management capabilities and when resources should be brought onto the initiative.
Part 1: The Scope of Change Management
How many times have we joined a project requiring “a senior change manager” only to find that the job was to execute communications and training materials, under the direction of the project manager? Or that we are brought into a complex effort too late to define the transition strategy? Or even that the project team has no idea what we do and uses us to manage meetings and issue project updates?
While change management has been around since the 1980s, there seems to be a limited understanding of how we contribute to change success. Even our most enlightened clients view the job as a series of tasks: stakeholder analysis, communication plan, training materials. As a result, we are often brought in toward the tail-end of a project, which restricts our ability to strategically manage change.
Explaining the extent of what we do is complicated by the fact that change management scope varies by the level of impact and complexity of each initiative. A simple change, such as an adjustment in reporting relationships, may be handled through communications alone. But a truly transformational initiative, such as merging with another company, requires a lot more planning and effort to manage a successful transition.
Here is the Venn diagram on the levels of change management support that I’ve shared with my clients. The breadth of our activities is depicted progressively, starting with the narrowest role of Communication & Training Execution, to the all-encompassing job of Business Transformation.
Communications & Training Execution
Change Review has also been included as a separate scope item, as it is often overlooked in many implementations.
Since our contribution depends on when we’re brought into the project, I’ve applied the PMI project stages as reference. Suffice it to say that the degree of change support, and likelihood of success, increases the earlier we are included in the initiative. Let’s begin with a look at Communications & Training Execution and Change Planning.
Communications & Training Execution
This is the one that gets the most head nods: everyone agrees that change managers are responsible for developing and implementing communications about the upcoming change and training the organization to function in the post-transition environment. The justification is that these materials may be quite complex or require a slick, professional appearance (e.g. videos, interactive training modules, webinars, etc.), requiring special expertise.
Here is the rub: the ability to create complex materials is not part of the required skill set for change managers, nor are we the experts at developing those materials. Being brought in at Project Execution to solely develop materials is not the best fit for Change Managers. While change managers can and do create communications and training materials, our value lies in analyzing the impact of the upcoming change and determining the best way to transition the organization.