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How to right-size the change effort

When it comes to implementing successful change, a standard approach simply does not work.

Seasoned change management professionals know that every change effort must be tailored to the needs of the organization, including the individual needs of each stakeholder group. This means you need to determine upfront the right amount and approach to managing a specific change and guide the overall implementation. I like to say, "you have to go slow in order to go fast." 

So, how do you right-size the change management effort? What follows are some essential considerations for those who are embarking on a change initiative or transformation. 

Determine the change characteristics

Find out as much as you can about the change itself.

Ask the initiative manager to describe the scope and nature of the change, including how it will impact the stakeholders. It is critical to understand the type of change, whether it’s to roles or jobs, skills or capabilities, policies or processes, technology or systems, or culture.

Be sure to document the current and future states at the organization. Why is this change being made? What are the desired outcomes? What are the intended benefits? How will success be measured? You need to know where you are going, and how you can tell that you got there in the end.

Understand the organization being impacted

Next, investigate who is being impacted and what their needs and current challenges may be.

I like to ask two simple questions: “who cares?”, and “what do they care about”? The culture of the organization will have to be accommodated as part of the change management approach. 

Determine who your key stakeholder groups are and how they will be impacted by the change. Find out which groups are most severely impacted, and which groups are least impacted. Be sure to consider the degree of variation in groups that are impacted as part of your sizing effort.

Also, find out what has been done to assess the impact of change. Have any discussions been held with key stakeholder groups? Have focus groups been held? This will give you a notion of the activities that have been completed to engage impacted stakeholders and will help to determine future engagement activities. You can also find out what the most effective methods for communication are amongst groups.

Another important attribute to understanding the organization is to look at its track record with change. Ask whether there is a history of failed initiatives, as that means a high level of effort is required to gain trust and credibility. 

Determine the sponsorship and change management team

Every successful change requires an influential and active change sponsor. Find out who is sponsoring the initiative, who is managing it, and whether any other change leaders have been identified. You will need to employ both top-down and bottom-up approaches, especially when it comes to cultural change. 

Determine the change management team structure. Is the change manager going to be embedded into an implementation team? Or, will a centralized change management team be supporting the initiative? For some low-impact changes, it may well be that the implementation and change management resources are the same.

Assess the implementation approach and risks

Finally, make sure you spend a significant amount of time with the initiative manager, to understand the implementation approach and risks.

Start by understanding how the implementation is going to occur (e.g. linear, geometric or “big bang”). Find out how much time there is to change by asking about the implementation date or other milestones. 

Assess the risks of the implementation from a people perspective. For example, in today’s world of constant change, I have consistently cited “change fatigue” as a key implementation risk. Make sure you gather input on how these risks may be mitigated from the implementation team and sponsors.

Determine if a communication strategy and plan are in place. Find out what communication support is required. Additionally, find out if training is required and gather some initial requirements for training. You may need to partner with communication and training teams within the organization to deliver on these plans.

What I have outlined here may sound deceptively simple–any experienced change management professional will tell you it’s not. Sizing your change management effort is a complex process that requires careful foresight, but if done right, it will yield wildly successful implementation results. 

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