Just when you think you have it all figured out, something changes.

Customer preferences shift. A new law means a change in practices. A team member takes a new position. The company acquires new technology.

No matter what the change is, the chances are that your team will adapt to the situation kicking and screaming. Humans are hard-wired to resist change.

So how can you work through the unexpected moments, minimize risk and resistance, and make change happen?

What is Organizational Change Management?

Organizational change management is the discipline and practice of anticipating, embracing, and managing change in an organization. It means different things to different parts of a business. Your IT team, for example, may know change management when it comes to new code releases or digital transformation.

Change management might as well be called people management, though, since it’s so much more about the thoughts and feelings of your team and your customers than it is about your technical know-how. It’s the human side of change management that makes it so challenging.

“Change,” in this definition, can be anything, but it typically refers to events or projects that significantly disrupt day-to-day operations. Think of it like a home renovation: painting your kitchen cabinets may not do much, but rip those cabinets out and build from the ground up? You’ve got yourself a major disruption.

Successfully managing change in organizations ensures that individuals within your team actually adopt the change, whether it’s using a new CRM tool or adding a pop of color to your brand palette. We’ll talk through the change management techniques that your organization can use to adapt to change, ensure successful adoption, and achieve your business goals.

Why You Need a Change Management Strategy

You’ve probably had to do at least one fire drill in your lifetime. When the alarm goes off, you know how to line up, which stairs to take, and whom to check in with at the meeting point.

That’s exactly what an organizational change management strategy can do for your team. It establishes protocols to help you easily adapt to change or crisis sustainably. You need a change management strategy if you’re making a change that:

  • Disrupts a regular cadence of work, such as monthly reports or annual goal-setting.
  • Significantly impacts a particular role or function within your team, such as adding new responsibilities or shifting them.
  • Involves your organization itself, such as a new brand, mergers and acquisitions, or going public, which the executive team can process for months, but the rest of the team learns when it hits the wire.

If you want to keep up with your competition and move as quickly and as successfully as possible, you’ll need to make sure that your team can move with you. Projects that don’t include a change management component may work on a technical level but fail on a people level.

5 Techniques for Managing Change in Organizations

It may be tempting to pick one or two people in an organization and leave the burden of change management on them. But the truth is that change management strategies are something for which every team member is responsible, whether they’re the executive sponsor, the project manager, or a cross-functional teammate.

At a cultural level, each individual within an organization must be willing to examine their processes and behaviors and adopt the proposed change. If a common refrain in meetings is, “Well, that’s how we’ve always done it” or “If it’s not broken, why fix it?”, change is going to be challenging for you to implement.

Here are five change management techniques that you can use to shape your organization’s attitudes and help combat resistance before it arises.

Determine Your Vision

Before executing any major change, outline the impact you expect it to have on every aspect of your organization. You may already know that your company needs a particular change, but other people in your organization, especially those less involved, may only see the short-term pain of switching. You need a change management strategy.

By taking the time to understand the “why” behind your change, you can map out pain points (and objections) ahead of time. Ask yourself:

  • How does this project fit into my goals and priorities as an organization and as a team within my organization?
  • Why will it benefit my team?
  • What specifically will it change, and how will it impact my employees, partners, and customers?
  • In what ways do internal processes need to change as a result? Whom does that impact?

Once you’ve mapped this out at a high level, you can start to assess the more detailed impacts on a stakeholder-by-stakeholder basis. If sending an email to your customers took ten steps before, how many steps will it take now? Understand what that means for each person.

Match Change Management Timing to Execution

Where projects can fumble is when the change management or communication are out of sync with the project’s actual execution.

Change management should be in lockstep with your project, and communication should come a beat before the actual change. An ideal agile change management strategy works iteratively, responding to change and feedback as the change occurs. Create a map of key milestones and how you plan to iterate through them.

Trigger change management processes too early, and at best, you’ll be confusing and vague. At worst, you’ll incite panic (“What about X, Y, Z?”) or inertia (“Why bother, if everything will change?”).

Find Your Change Champions

One mistake that many organizations make is the fear of feedback. Most software releases don’t just happen—they’re beta-tested by a smaller group and then slowly rolled out to the full audience. Agile change management should do the same with internal changes.

The more feedback you receive, the smoother the change will be. It holds your team accountable, too. Ask for a smaller group of team members to be your beta testers, noting areas of confusion, resistance, and delight.

In these early stages, qualitative feedback from one-on-one meetings, informal roundtables, or polls and surveys will be invaluable in understanding not only what needs to be improved at a technical level but also how you can better communicate this change to the rest of the organization. You’ll get a detailed look at how the change actually impacts the day-to-day activities of a given function.

From this group, designate a team of change champions who can help onboard the rest of their teams, answer questions, or facilitate new processes.

Embrace Change Management Marketing

Any successful project needs communication. That’s even more true with major changes. The best internal communication plans function the same ways as external marketing does, driving user involvement, buy-in, and adoption.

Your communication plan should:

  • Define an internal brand for the change that calls back to your “why.”
  • Lean on your pre-existing company values for messaging.
  • Determine the most important pieces of information stakeholders should know, and when they should know these.
  • Identify and omit any pieces of information that are too detailed or technical.
  • Identify key communication channels (or create them), such as a specific Slack channel or email distribution list.
  • Utilize grassroots communication through your change champions, in addition to top-down messaging from executives.

Develop a Training Plan

As the details begin to fall into place on the change, you’ll want to build a comprehensive training plan. Produce customized, role-based content suitable for new hires and for your more experienced team members. This can involve different formats, but here a few to consider:

  • Instructional slides.
  • How-to documents or posts on an internal company portal.
  • Use case exercises or live training.
  • Detailed training sessions.
  • Ask-me-anything drop-ins or office hours.

Training should start before the change is rolled out everywhere to prepare your team, but should continue well after it goes live, especially as you iterate on the project. Your training plan should answer immediate questions (“Why are we doing this? Why now?”) but also address ongoing concerns, as well as future technology updates.

Support Your Team

Change is hard. There’s no way around it.

When you’re heads-down on a project, it’s easy to see what you’re doing and why it’s important. Just as your customers can access your support team through help desks, live chat, or email, it’s important to set up an internal support team to facilitate the change.

Designate one or two-point people on your team to take questions and set up a specific channel by which to take them, such as a memorable email address or Slack channel. Change takes a village, so use it as a team-building exercise. Think about creative ways to build excitement and reward change adopters within your team that fit with your culture, whether that’s themed cocktails at an all-hands meeting or a care package with instructions, training information, stickers, and other swag.

One last tip: Don’t forget to celebrate! Change management is an ongoing process that gets muddled up by thoughts and feelings. Make sure to support your team through the downs and the ups—you deserve it!

For an effective change management strategy, remember to:

  1. Determine your vision.
  2. Match change management timing.
  3. Find your change champions.
  4. Embrace change management marketing.
  5. Develop a training plan.

What has change management looked like at your organization? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to share any change management tips or tricks you’ve picked up along the way!