And I mean very specifically, what is change management? We hear it all the time--organizations are looking for a way to manage their plans for change across their enterprise. Despite the term’s popularity, we have come to find that the formal definition of change management lacks specificity. So, we set out to define the term for ourselves (in the context of planning and execution, of course).
The simple definition of change management is “an approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations to a desired future state.”
In a business context, this definition is amorphous and non-descriptive. The implied message is simple – the current state of the organization does not align with where it hopes to be. It’s a plan to get us from here to there. That’s it. Looking deeper though, the change management definition is crafted very purposefully. It’s a catch-all term. Agnostic to industry, focus, or purpose. At its core, change management implies transformation. The process an organization undergoes when it’s dissatisfied with the way it looks or performs and hopes to move toward a better future.
Change Management Comes in Many Forms:
Need to reorganize your corporate structure? That’s change management.
Implementing a new software system across the organization? Change Management.
Running a large-scale quality improvement process? Also, change management.
Laying off a significant portion of your workforce? Unfortunately, that is change management as well.
The important factor here is not the type of change management plan, but rather the size, scope and reach of said plan. If your plan, when executed, transforms some aspect of your operational workflow, culture, or organizational structure – thereby affecting a significant portion of your workforce in some way - It is probably a change management plan.
The Truth About Change Management
Today’s business environment is more competitive and dynamic than ever before. Technology has lowered entry barriers for competitors. Supply chains are leaner, but more globally connected. Cost structures for products and services are changing rapidly due to a variety of issues ranging from geopolitical instability to industry innovation.
We live in the age of agile business environments – Always changing, and always adapting. And the agile enterprise has responded – This is the origin of change management. Agility is the new status quo.
When you consider the scope of change management, implementation can seem daunting. A single change management initiative could span multiple business units and departments, requiring participation and collaboration from numerous, disparate job functions. This seems formidable, and the research backs up this intuition.
According to a report released by McKinsey & Company, 70% of all changes attempted in organizations fail. For executives, this number is frightening. Especially given the business implications of a failed change management initiative.
So, Why Do Change Management Plans Fail?
To understand why change management fails, look first at what comprises change management. The Boston Consulting Group, explains in their HBR article, “The Hard Side of Change Management,” that there are two elements of change management: soft factors and hard factors.
1. Soft Factors include the aspects of change management related to people. Most commonly, this is characterized as:
The reason for the “soft” categorization stems from these aspects being inherently difficult to measure. How do you assign a metric to communication or culture? Soft factors inform change management plans and are integral to the plan building process. But they are not fit to define success.
2. Hard Factors are those that take on three characteristics:
Measure in direct or indirect ways.
Easily communicate their importance, both within and outside the organization.
At a glance, these characteristics don’t seem all that intimidating. But when applied to a large scale, organization-wide change management plan involving thousands of employees, I can tell you it won't be easy. But regardless, they are necessary. If you can’t communicate your plan, measure success, and course correct the plan in real-time, change management is simply not possible.
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