Guide: 5 easy steps for a successful Change Management Process

In all articles by Alexander Straub

Change management is one of the most important HR trends in 2022. In the last few years, employees have had to bear the brunt of many changes. However, it is essential to remember that change is not a matter of course and does not come without problems. Strategic change management on the side of the HR department is therefore essential for successful and long-term changes in the company. In this article, change management expert Alexander Straub talks about this strategic approach and five steps for long-term, successful change.

Content
Change Management defined
Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model
Do you need a change management strategy?
Change management in practice – 5 steps for sustainable change

Change Management defined

Change management is the discipline that accompanies and supports changes in behavior. This can be a change in hard skills (e.g., new IT tool, changed process) or soft skills (e.g., mindset change).

Humans are creatures of habit and can – fortunately – easily set themselves up on autopilot. It would simply cost us too much energy and time to do routine activities with full attention every time. Imagine you had to organize your breakfast every morning like you did the first time.

Change Management overview in a mindmap
Change Management overview

Change means breaking routines

If we want to change this autopilot, we must interrupt and readjust these routines. In change management, we support and accompany this process. Starting with the communication of an imminent change, through the testing of the new, to monitoring the successful change.

Change needs repetition

As each of us knows from our own past, changed behavior is not anchored overnight and has become the new autopilot. Who hasn’t got on the wrong bus or made a wrong turn at the traffic lights after moving house weeks later? Consequently, changing behavior takes time. And repetition. Thus, it is no different from learning, where repetition is also important and necessary.

Furthermore, studies show that, depending on the complexity of the change, it takes up to 90 days until the new behavior becomes routine and the autopilot is readjusted. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the resolution made on New Year’s Eve is already discarded after a few days. Especially in the first few days, it takes a lot of reminding, attention to the change, and, ideally, support. Because even after a few weeks, it still takes energy to remember to pack the sports bag in the morning and go to the gym instead of the couch in the evening.

Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

One of the best-known models for change management is John Kotter’s 8-step model. It is a refinement of Kurt Lewin’s 3-phase model.
The center of Kotter’s model lies in the communication of change.
Since two of the main problems, why change in organizations does not succeed, are often the resistance of the employees, as well as the falling back into old habits. For the prevention of both of these problems, the right communication is crucial.

8 Step Model for successful change by John Kotter
8 Step Model for successful change by John Kotter

Do you need a change management strategy?

Absolutely yes. Of course, some changes come easily to us, and accompanying this change would somehow have something absurd about it. However, the more complex the change, the more critical change management becomes. Complexity refers to the significance of the change is and how long the “old” behavior was practiced. If I learn how to apply for leave today, I can easily do it differently tomorrow. But if I have always applied for leave in the same way for five years, the first application in the new employee portal with the changed leave application process can be irritating and takes longer.

Change the mindset for changed behavior

If, in addition to new behavior, a new mindset is required – as is currently the case with agile leadership – it takes significantly more energy and time to change behavior and make it the norm. However, I first have to learn to trust my employees so that I can stop controlling everything and everyone. Hence, a poster in the lift alone is only of little help.

Accompanying the change management process along the change curve

At this point, it is also important to be aware of the phases of change every person goes through with every change. These changes can sometimes happen very quickly. For example, if the nearest staircase is closed because of painting work and I have to take a diversion. But it can also take a very long time if, for an instant, it is a very emotional issue.

One model to illustrate the change process is the Kübler-Ross curve. It indicates the emotional phase in which the affected individuals find themselves during the change period.

Needs- and target group-oriented support are fundamental at this point because not all people (and possibly hierarchical levels) go through this curve at the same speed. Although it is the same change for everyone. Being aware of this can be a powerful vehicle for leaders and HR’ers. The majority of the often quoted 70% of failed projects fail in the valley of tears. This must not be the case if the right support is offered at every stage.

Kübler-Ross Change Curve
Kübler-Ross Change Curve

Change management in practice – 5 steps for sustainable change

In our work, we emphasize the following five steps to achieve sustainable and thus successful change.

  1. Generate understanding
  2. Generating acceptance through participation
  3. Develop individual solutions
  4. Generate commitment
  5. Establish change monitoring

Generate understanding

Everyone knows that we can accept the change much more easily when it is explained to us why something should or even must change. If there is even the prospect of an improvement for myself, I can even support the change. The digitalization of the holiday application process and the necessary adjustment of my behavior can simply be annoying and make me grumble at every application. However, suppose it is explained to me that this will automatically determine my remaining leave and allow the manager to approve it much more quickly. In that case, I might be able to enjoy the next application again. Even without paper and signature.

In practice:

In our experience, the most helpful thing here is to communicate, communicate, communicate. It is important to consider who needs what information and when, and not ignore the hierarchy. Understandably, managers are seldom enthusiastic when their employees already receive information about a project that the manager himself does not yet know about. Large kick-off events are also suitable here, as questions and needs can be directly voiced and answered.

In leadership development, we use Gamification at this point. The participants experience different leadership styles, and in the subsequent reflection, they usually realize that a different leadership style can be more effective and less frictionless.

Generating acceptance through participation

Assume, we were allowed to have a say in the new leave application right from the start, and could, for example, help shape the input page (order of the fields, what is automatically pre-filled, etc.). Consequently, I would not only be able to accept the change more quickly but even make it my change. In this way, I can become the testimonial of the change and promote the sense and necessity of this change in the organization – see 1.

In practice:

Depending on the size of the organization and the circle of those affected, there are different formats for turning those affected into participants. We like to work with change agents who take over the involvement of the employees in their area/team and can be a direct feedback channel into the project. In this step, it is important to be open to suggestions and criticism. Then the next step is much easier.

Develop individual solutions

By designing the content of the new process, individual solutions are created, not always for each individual but the organization. Understandably, the holiday application in a company with 10,000 employees has to be designed differently compared to a 20-person start-up. But if we make the right process for us, we will have a solution that meets with wider acceptance than a process imposed from outside. Because a change from the outside will never feel right.

In practice:

Step 2 has already given us a lot of input. The project must make use of this input and incorporate it into the technical concept. This can be achieved with workshops by the change agents but also with key users. In an agile sense, we test the solutions to see to what extent the needs of those affected have already been met.

Here, too, we like to use gamification. This allows, on one hand, the problem to be experienced in the abstract and, on the other hand, the solution space to be opened up. Solutions that have been devised and work in a game can usually be easily adapted to real problems. Through playing, the participants get access to their creativity, and completely different solutions come about than thinking about them purely rationally and theoretically.

Generate commitment

Those who have seriously implemented the first steps will get the commitment more easily. Who would be unhappy about a digitalized holiday application that meets their own requirements? If the advantages for each individual (time savings) and the organization (cost savings) are made transparent in the first step, there is hardly any discussion about the necessity. And after the introduction, there will hardly be any workarounds or refusals.

Nevertheless, it can be important to ask for this commitment explicitly. For example, a joint commitment is very important when it comes to how teams work together. If there is a relapse to the old behavior, it can be addressed, and the new behavior can be demanded.

In practice:

When we work with teams to shape their collaboration, joint commitment is one of the agenda’s last (and most important) items. Different approaches to decision-making may be used here. Most of the time, every participant should agree unreservedly. Sometimes, however, this is not possible or necessary on all points. Then consensus can be enough. This means that no one is against it anymore.

Establish change monitoring

However, the completion of the project to digitize the leave application is not the end of change management, as it is very likely that not all employees have completed the change curve. As mentioned at the beginning, behavior change can take a long time. In this example, it is easy to prevent a relapse to the old behavior: For instance, by no longer making the application form available as a pdf or on paper. Changing one’s own leadership style is more difficult.

In practice:

In this phase, we use different feedback formats (e.g., surveys, workshops), observe the previously defined KPIs by which one can measure the successful change, continue to work with the change agents to determine the mood, and continue to offer support for a sustainable change. How long this is useful and necessary depends very much on the complexity of the change. In the case of a digitized leave application, change monitoring is much shorter than for the roll-out of a new leadership model.

5 easy steps to ensure sustainable change in organizations
5 easy steps to ensure sustainable change in organizations

Conclusion

Successful change management is not that difficult and makes it easier for everyone involved to deal with change. Not only does it make things less stressful for those involved, but it also makes life much easier for the project. We are all familiar with resistance to change, which is often incomprehensible to the initiators of the change. With sometimes smaller and sometimes bigger actions, behavior can be changed sustainably. As for every operational discipline, there are experts who accompany change projects and thus contribute to their success.


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About the author
Alexander Straub is the founder and managing director of changefication GmbH. In almost 20 years of consulting experience, it was always important to him to shape changes in such a way that they can be accepted and shaped by those affected. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a new IT system, a reorganization or a new management model. Alexander Straub was already working as a freelance consultant while he was studying economics and was subsequently involved in various consultancies. During this time he discovered his passion for gamification and is now integrating this into the consulting approach at changefication GmbH.