Three Change Management Truths

Abreon recently co-hosted a webinar with our trusted partner Leapgen,a leader in HR and digital transformation. We came together because we wanted to share lessons learned over our combined years of change management consulting experience. Despite working on different aspects of change management, we both identified the same issues and prioritized the same actions that should be taken. The full recording is available (here) but I wanted to share a few key takeaways because I think they are so helpful to anyone beginning a change management journey.


Truth #1: Start Early

The first truth of change management is that you have to start early. While exactly what constitutes early is subjective, everyone agreed you should get started as soon as possible. Once leadership has decided on a change or even is openly discussing the possibility, there will be an emotional response. People will start to talk about the proposed change around the water cooler and will start to form opinions about it. This can lead to misconceptions, pushback, and negative feelings that can delay or even kill a change initiative before it starts.

One of the first things needed then is an “elevator pitch” for employees. This is a brief statement—imagine trying to convince someone during a ride on an elevator—that will explain the need for the change and the benefits to them. The goal is to start managing expectations and getting people on-board with the change.

Another important consideration in starting early is knowing what has to be started. Putting together a list of needs along with a timeline will help you to address these items as early as possible. Some items to consider include:

  1. The Change Management Team – Who will be leading this change? Who will be the main contributors? Who will own processes? What roles will everyone play?
  2. Timeline – How long will this change take to implement? Do your people have available time to dedicate to making the change? What calendar events might affect your ability to make this change?
  3. Communications – How will you communicate the change, both internally and to external stakeholders? Who will draft communications? How will messages be disseminated?
  4. Budget – What costs are involved in making this change, including software licenses, retaining vendors, updating equipment, and training people?
  5. Training – What level of training will be required to prepare people for this change and ensure they can continue to perform their roles effectively?

Mapping these needs and timelines early-on will help you to get started on each of them as soon as possible and avoid being blindsided later in the process.


Truth #2: Empathize

The second change management truth is that you must have empathy for the people affected by the change. Change often means uncertainty, unfamiliarity, and the hard work of learning new skills. Change can also mean moving outside of one’s comfort zone or even losing long-standing relationships with coworkers and vendors. Addressing these fears and focusing on the positive ways the change will benefit them will help get people on your side. One method that is particularly helpful in understanding how your workforce will feel and what they will need is Design Thinking:

  • Empathize
  • Define
  • Ideate & Challenge
  • Prototype
  • Test
  • Measure

Because Design Thinking is human-centered, it allows you to focus on the people for whom you will be creating a plan and timeline. You can conduct impact analysis and create user personas to help inform and guide your messaging. Knowing what they will face and what they will need allows you to keep the user front and center and create meaningful communications that answer the question “what’s in it for me?” This is especially important should a project face difficulties or delays.


Truth #3: Go-Live = Go Begin

The final truth is that the go-live date is not the end of the project, but rather, the beginning of something new. Therefore, any successful change management plan must include provisions to ensure that the change is fully adopted and sustainable. This means creating a post-go-live plan and determining who will own each aspect of the new state going forward. There are many ways to support new technology, software, or procedure. Suggestions offered in the webinar include:

  • Implementing a Comprehensive Training Program
  • Using a Communication Plan for Reinforcement
  • Establishing a Help Desk
  • Recruiting Super Users
  • Sharing Success Stories

In order to make any change initiative successful, the entire organization must take a stance in support of the change. Even if the change is only to be implemented in one department, it will most likely affect everyone in the organization in some way. The actions that are needed by each of these truths require support from the highest levels. There needs to be cross-functional support for the change to avoid roadblocks or pushback, and like everywhere else, engagement is key. Get everyone on board early, communicate with them throughout, and support them for the long term.

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