What is Change Management?

Written by Scott Wilson

what is change management

What is change management? Change management is the process of predicting, planning for, and negotiating transitions and alterations in every aspect of organizational activity. It involves strategic calculation, communication, and effective adaptation in both leadership and workforce to absorb negative impacts of change and to take advantage of opportunities that are created.

If there is a constant in any industry or organization, it’s change. The world is constantly in motion. Competition emerges, new technology is invented, customer tastes change, new policies are enacted… heck, even the climate is changing. And every organization has to cope with these emerging changes whether they like it or not.

New ideas, new innovations, new challenges… a modern workforce is constantly facing changes.

Organizational leadership is part of the problem. You don’t become a leader without being someone who has ideas about developing innovation. One of the assets you bring to organizations is the ability to drive positive change, to make things better, more efficient, and more effective. That’s disruptive even when it’s beneficial.

Organizational leadership is also the solution. Helping an organization and its staff navigate the new waters that come with change is a core role for managers and administrators. A strong leader offers the inspiration, the vision, and the change management process that teams need to make change a positive experience.

A Change Management Definition That Makes Sense

meeting with coworkersIt’s not very satisfying to read that change management is the process of managing change, of course. Both because change is so constant and so diverse, it’s tough to pin down exactly what the term can mean in any specific situation. And that can make it tough to prepare for and handle changes.

So a better change management definition might be this:

Change management is the mental and manual preparation for and actual alteration of how an organization operates. It combines strategic planning, motivation, and training and instruction to support new ways of performing jobs and functions within an organization.

It’s the responsibility of leaders to drive this preparation and transformation to its conclusion. And that’s all part of the change management process.

What Is a Change Management Process?

difference in thinkingPeople have trouble with change because it takes them outside the realm of the familiar. But smart organizational change management takes advantage of that desire for stability and predictability by putting it inside a larger change management plan.

All changes are different. That’s what makes them changes! But a good organizational leader will develop a change management framework that they can use to break down the pieces of each change and put them together again systematically. The changes themselves are all different. But the way you and your team handle them will all be from the same plan.

This is the change management process, and it can both enable rapid, planned innovation in the organization and be used to handle unexpected shifts coming out of left field.

Meeting the Greatest Test of Change Management Planning

online learning on a tabletAlmost every major organization claims to have some kind of change management process in place. It’s a buzzword that has been floating around business schools for decades.

But when a global pandemic comes knocking, you find out who was just offering lip service and which organizations had leadership with a genuine change management strategy in place.

In Buffalo, schools quickly issued laptops to students who suddenly found themselves having to study at home. The school system distributed more than 7,500 in a day. The district also rolled out thousands of wifi hotspots for students who didn’t have internet at home… all of it only a month after school closed.

Airlines, with their passenger flights shut down, shifted quickly to flying cargo in passenger cabins, capitalizing on sudden shipping crises caused by jammed supply chains.

While the pandemic was enormously disruptive for almost every business, those that had solid change management strategies in place weathered the storm in much better shape than their competitors. Now, every organization understands the importance of change management.

What Is Change Management in Project Management?

project management in change managementA huge part of the job of a leader in project management is dealing with project changes. These are usually expected, but unpredictable requests or unforeseen difficulties that come up in the course of the project. New feature requests coming in from users in software development projects, equipment failures on construction jobs, or unexpected metal fatigue on an engineering project are all examples of routine changes.

Project managers are expected to anticipate the existence of these changes, if not the specifics, and to be ready to shift resources and change timelines to deal with them. Much of the art of project management involves figuring out how to prioritize change requests and re-focus team members to accomplish them. A real excellent project leader will make it all happen on time and under budget.

What Is Organizational Change Management?

Changes happen at every level, right down to individual job processes. But the most challenging, the kind that take the most leadership to deal with, are organizational changes.

These are the big shifts that every organization has to make occasionally to refocus their operations or adapt to major industry changes. Sometimes they’re driven by internal strategy, and sometimes brought on by larger market forces like recessions.

It’s inevitable and natural for staff to get nervous when businesses reorganize or shift focus. Organizational change management has to deal not only with the nuts and bolts of the process and resource shifts, but also with the psychological and social elements. An organizational change management strategy has to take into account the reactions of individuals on top of the overall objectives of the change.

What Is a Change Management Strategy?

strategy meetingChange management strategy is the overall plan developed by organizational leaders for handling changes. These strategies can vary based on the business, the type of changes that are likely to be encountered, and the resources and capacity for dealing with them. For example, a business that is going to be merging with or acquiring another business will probably develop a strategy that revolves around:

On the other hand, an organization that is bracing for possible economic impacts might lay out a completely different strategy. Leaders there might prepare a strategy that:

All of these have in common the need to anticipate the potential categories of change and to prepare for the concrete actions that may need to be taken to deal with them.

What Is a Change Manager?

A change manager can be a formal title within organizations, designating the individual responsible for creating change management models and developing change management strategy. On another level, change managers are basically all managers… the people responsible for dealing with whatever new things the industry or company throw at them.

Change management, by definition, happens whenever a change occurs. Whether it’s done well or poorly is often up to leaders.

Professional change managers are typically only found in large organizations that need the specialization. They may lead entire change management teams. They devote their time to:

How Can You Get Change Management Training?

Managing organization changes is taught in every organizational leadership degree program. Coursework covers important concepts like:

Additionally, OL programs offer some of the intangibles that formal change management definitions don’t cover. They go beyond the mechanisms of change and prepare leaders to handle the social and psychological effects of change. With coursework in managing dynamic environments, exploring organizational power, and handling conflict, an organizational leadership degree has a lot to offer to professional change managers or change management consultants.

Professional change management jobs get easier when you have the kind of communication and interpersonal skills that organizational leadership training bring you.

Organizational leadership programs almost always include classes in project management, as well. Since change management is such a big part of most project management jobs, many of the tools and techniques you will learn there will be valuable additions to your change management training.

Organizational leadership degrees prepare their students to live in a world of change, and give them the tools to take their organizations through turmoil and out the other side.