- A structured, systematic process from a current state to a future state through a transition period;
- using new ways of thinking, operating, and behaving;
- focused on outcomes that mirror the organization’s objectives.
What is It?
Change management has gone through an interesting evolution over the past twenty years. Also known as the “soft” side of change, it has transitioned from a previously vague, unknown term to a necessary function in businesses today. Its rise can be traced to several global developments such as globalization, constant tech innovations, and phenomena like social media and mobile adaptability. Change management is a discipline that supports people during a business transition, and the in long-term, the organization itself.
Traditionally, the change management process involved using sets of strategies, such as frameworks and models, to successfully achieve change in an organization. Models like John Kotter’s 8-step Process for Leading Change and the Plan-Do-Check-Act became prime models for change processes. Much like baking powder in cake, change management became the key ingredient in successfully meeting business objectives.
Why Did it Evolve so Rapidly?
Globalization and New Innovations: A Historical Perspective
Globalization and technological innovation have been critical to the need for change management in organizations today. Usually, proponents of this view are the ones who describe change as “inevitable,” and it’s clear why. Businesses in the last couple of decades have opened themselves up globally, enabling new technologies to have worldwide communications and connected infrastructures which have diversified the nature of businesses exponentially. This explosion required organizations to adapt to the changing landscape or risk losing their position in the business market.
Tangible Benefits: A Business Perspective
Businesses also began to recognize that change management created tangible bottom-line benefits. Much like modern economies shifting to sustainable ways of production because it increases GDP, businesses have shifted to incorporating change management as a central function to cut costs and secure benefits. For instance, highly effective change management implementations are three and a half times more likely to outperform industry peers. Inversely, poorly managing change, or ignoring its importance entirely, is very costly. Employees in a company become less productive and disengaged when processes are implemented without proper training and integration; it cuts down the likelihood of a business achieving its objectives.
Competitive Advantages: A Psychological Perspective
Beyond global developments and reaping economic benefits, we can dive deeper and view the evolution of change management from a psychological perspective. What if businesses can secure competitive advantages by changing business culture and the way people behave? Market trends reveal that this is exactly what top companies have discovered: change management has developed into a key success factor n today’s business environment. Change initiatives enable higher success rates in achieving business objectives and sustaining better outcomes. Changing behaviour and culture towards a defined purpose, in order to achieve goals, actively influences employees to believe in what they’re doing, and make significant contributions.
Changing Change Over the Years
It isn’t just the legitimacy of change management that’s grown over the years. Its methods and frameworks have also adapted to changes over time. Some traditional methods have become obsolete, while others remain highly effective depending business context. Nevertheless, methods have largely shifted to hybrid methodologies, which are required today for a business transformation to be successful. We see leading change leaders use hybrid resources and thinking because they are well-researched, proven frameworks that apply the most appropriate strategies to work in a given situation. It isn’t a checklist; rather, it’s an understanding of what is needed to get done.
It’s also important to note a shift in the change management approach over the years. Whereas the previous mentality to implementing change centred on a project-by-project, task-by-task basis, approaches today have leaned toward the idea of business transformation. It isn’t enough that a set of projects are completed to achieve business objectives—tailor-made cultural change and leadership coaching, for instance, are often necessary services to sustain the meeting of goals long-term.
What Hasn’t Changed: People, People, People
The central tenet in change management has always been people. Although the idea of the psychological nature of people was key to the founding of change management principles, it also didn’t come without its challenges. In anchoring change concepts around this idea, we discover that people are the most difficult, time-consuming, and complex barrier to achieving successful change initiatives. This is evident when we look at the process implementation stage of a project. In many cases, projects are rushed to get the hard side of change, such as introducing or moving new technologies, done as quickly as possible. However, the soft side of change—people and processes—almost always remain the hardest to integrate, where you might be spending double or triple the time to complete a project.
Yet, the importance of people remains focal in the success of today’s change management initiatives. While change can induce uncertainty and a stubborn response, today’s global economic environment makes agile transformations and quick responses necessary to remain competitive. People must accept change as an inevitability in the workplace, and it’s the job of change management firms to ensure this realization. People—their mentality, perceptions, current state, and behaviour—are the key to an organization being change-ready. In fact, organizations are getting better at it. Now, people are being involved earlier and more frequently in the change process.
One Final Thought
With the growth of new technologies, particularly artificial intelligence and other forms of data-enabled analytics, the industry has given way to the rise of digital transformations. Organizations are now adopting novel ways to solve traditional problems and use and filter all kinds of data to make informed decisions. In light of these trends, the outlook for change management remains very positive. Businesses continue to incorporate change management as its own function within their systems, and new technologies continue to offer innovative ways to guide decisions. Change management will continue to evolve, but its role as a key player in helping organizations meet its objectives will carry on.
– Jotham Ong