Guide: From change management to leading change

People & Performance has been working with change management for over 15 years and in this guide we provide a review of what lies behind the concept and answer some of the most relevant questions about change management.

We are each on the ground at both Danish and international companies, training their leaders to manage change.

Read more about change management or jump directly to one of the sections below

What is a change process?

A process of change is any process between one situation and a changed situation. This could be, for example, the implementation of a new IT system, a change in the organization’s values ​​or new forms of collaboration.

When we talk about change management and management of change processes, it is about planned, facilitated processes where there is an initiator for the change (typically top management) and an intention to change – typically an expectation of increased value creation due to more efficient workflows, fewer costs or innovations.

We are therefore not dealing with external changes such as financial crises, climate crises, pandemics, war or other external factors that certainly create change, but which are hardly so planned. Instead, we focus on the change processes that are initiated in and by the company. However, they can easily be set in motion due to external events.

Change processes today are a condition, and if handled properly, they can be extremely useful for creating business development and organizational development or for implementing and executing strategies.

The change of change

Change has traditionally been a planned process with a beginning and an end and four phases along the way. For example, when a new CRM system had to be implemented or an organizational change had to be made.

Today, the process of change is to a much greater extent also about changing the organization’s culture, values, self-understanding, ability to innovate or form of collaboration with customers and the outside world or the like.

 It places completely new demands on you as a manager and on how you mobilize your employees.

The 4 phases of change

In most changes, there are four main phases, each of which offers challenges and opportunities:

  1. Planning
  2. Kickoff
  3. Acceleration
  4. Integration

Planning is the preparation for a process of change. This is where you plan the project, assess the extent of change and the readiness for change in the employees. This is also where you lay out a roadmap for employee involvement and for communication before, during and after the change. The purpose of the planning phase is to be ready to mobilize people for the best possible change as soon as it is announced, to reduce uncertainty and gain momentum from the start. 

In kickoff, the change is initiated. This is where you start the planned activities and grasp whatever happens along the way. The purpose of this phase is to make people understand the purpose of the change and enable as many people as possible to contribute. Contributing to change is one of the strongest means of avoiding resistance against change. 

In acceleration, you must be united with the change. At this point, different people have been moved around, new processes have been set in motion, there are access to new systems and so on. The purpose of the acceleration is to ensure that the new things are implemented in the organization. 

Integration is the last stage and is unfortunately often forgotten. This is where you have introduced the new system and trained your salespeople in this. In other words, it is here that the change is in place and now needs to show its worth in everyday life. It requires you as a leader to push to build the right culture, behaviors and practices that ensure that the new systems and business processes deliver the intended return. This is also where adjustments need to be made if a new system and an existing system do not work well together, or if planned business processes that looked good on paper do not fit into practice. The purpose of the integration is to adjust the change so that it supports a daily, efficient operation. It is this phase that seriously creates long-term success and provides value.

The four phases are related to Change Management and are relevant to master the part of the change that can be “controlled”. But there are many more aspects of change management.

 

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What is change management?

Change processes require active change management. Today, change is more of a condition than a project that is launched, for example, when new systems are to be implemented. Therefore, the ability to change quickly and often has also become more important for both manager and employees. 

In the past, change was typically about implementing new methods, systems, and tools. Today, change is also more about what we call the “soft” elements. It often involves new forms of collaboration, values or other areas where the change itself is considered a learning process.

The role of the leader in change management

To lead a change successfully, you need knowledge of facilitation as well as the ability to mobilize the people who are to drive the change. 

It requires a new understanding of the leadership role, where you as a leader are not the omniscient superhero who “has figured it all out” and must lead the employees to a new state. Instead, you are also a person who must handle and understand the change in dialogue with the employees. It requires both an open mind and concrete tools.

Getting the employers onboard

Management has become an extremely complex field, and it can be difficult for both manager and employees to maintain an overview. At the same time, changes happen more often and usually from something known to something unknown.

In the organizations where the employees experience that everything is changing, it can lead to several negative consequences, such as increased talent drop-offs, more stress illness reports and a pronounced demotivation.

To avoid this and some of the other typical barriers to change, there is a need to create stability and footholds that can act as anchors or respite during the change. In order for the change participants to throw full energy into the changes, there is a need for a secure core that employees and managers can be sure will not change.

At the same time, the increased complexity means that neither employees nor managers know the end goal. Therefore, it is important to activate the employees and create ownership so that they help to initiate and create the change.

Why is change management important?

Change cycles are shortened in many industries. This means that more changes are introduced and that they are introduced at shorter and shorter intervals. In addition, the matrix organization in most places increases complexity, just as international competition increases the need for specialization. The requirements become directly conflicting in some organizations.

All these movements make change a new state of normalcy. Previously, few changes were underway at the same time. Today there are many. The increase in speed, complexity and number of changes calls for good management. However, it also calls for learning, as it is no longer possible to fully plan and anticipate change.

That is why we also talk about change learning rather than change management. Change learning places greater demands on the dialogue between employees and managers and focuses more on building new understandings rather than implementing new tools.

Change learning requires that the team puts something at stake and that both team and leader have the mandate and opportunity to act. Change learning is particularly related to changes that involve innovation or significant changes in forms of collaboration and business models. These changes are more of a shared learning journey than a process in which the manager leads the employees to a new place.

Your role as a leader therefore also shifts from having to lead the employees to a new place to being the one that enables the employees to create the change. It does not always happen without resistance.

Case

Change management in M&J Recycling

“We have gained a common language and promoted collaboration across the organisation”
Ruth Lundorff, Head of HR i M&J Recycling.

How do you handle resistance against change?

Many approaches to change are based on the need to break down or overcome resistance to change in order to make people change. But it does not work anymore.

The new conditions in change require a certain degree of freedom of action where the change is to take place – for example between salespeople and customers. Therefore, change management is also about Change Leadership and about mobilizing people and not just Change Management. In this context, it is often a matter of mobilizing the employees who are to drive change, and here it is important to handle the resistance to change appropriately and to distinguish between professional resistance and human resistance.

The typical scenario is that a top management has described a vision for a major change. The intention of the vision is that it should in itself mobilize employees to drive change. The problem with this is just that the organization’s employees are most often driven by two specific factors:

  • Not to lose what I have.
  • Meaning and relevance to me.

Not lose what I have

People are willing to make a far greater effort to retain something, they feel, they have, rather than achieve something they might only be able to get. Therefore, threats to one’s basis of existence, self-understanding, social attachment and identity contain great energy of resistance. And therefore, anxiety is a natural companion in any process of change.

It must be clear to the individual employee what he or she can lose by not being an active part of the change process. Although it is effective to create change by threatening that “if we do not succeed in this change, then we must close so that everyone is without a job”, then we can certainly not recommend it. The fear of change should always be addressed constructively.

Therefore, you should also make it clear to employees what opportunities they have to help move forward in order to mobilize maximum energy for change. If done right, you can also prevent change participants from using the energy of anxiety to share their worries so that productivity decreases, stress increases and momentum is lost.

Meaning and relevance to me

The burning platform is a classic concept in change management. However, the concept is no longer sufficient, as it only works if it is linked to the possible contributions that employees can engage in. If they cannot contribute actively, then a burning platform will have the opposite effect – locking. 

The amount of information available today is overwhelming, and it has become an art for both professionally and academically trained employees to be able to sort from. This development has helped to create a movement towards us seeking what is relevant to us. And in most changes, there will be a big difference in what top management and frontline staff find relevant. 

Change communication must therefore make it clear why the change is relevant to the company – and if possible, to the individual employee. The change does not necessarily mean something good for every single employee, but it must make sense to everyone why the change is happening. 

Effective change communication also moves in the direction of both a broader and deeper description of “why” and “how does it relate to our purpose and everything else we are doing?”. To create relevance for different managers and employees, you must therefore be able to answer: “What good does the change create?”. You must also be able to answer why the change is necessary for:

  • Your community
  • Your customers or users of services
  • Your company, shareholders, funds or owners
  • Your team, specific employee groups or your culture
  • The individual employee
  • Yourself

Professional resistance vs human resistance

The professional resistance to change arises when employees see that the change is moving in a non-value-creating direction from a professional and business point of view. Here, as a leader, you must be able to use the professional resistance constructively and mobilize the employees to be active change participants.

Human resistance arises on a more psychological level. When we humans are asked to change, we typically begin to find fault with the new, use excuses like we’re too busy, or just do what’s exactly necessary.

In both cases, the change participant experiences the current state of stress as the sum of all the influences that require energy from her or him at the moment. Therefore, there is rarely any resistance to the change, but rather a lack of capacity to handle the sum of loads – and a change will, all other things being equal, be a greater load than continuing as “usual”.

As a leader, you must therefore use the immediate resistance as building blocks and work actively with them in change. You must also be able to distinguish between professional and human resistance. Professional resistance can be both real and relevant. Personal resistance is more about the individual employee’s natural reaction to the fact that it can be both uncomfortable and difficult to undergo a change.

Therefore, always remember that resistance is energy. It must not be overcome and those who express concern (and thus resistance) are often the ones who have the insight to make the change a success. Therefore, it is far more value-creating to make them co-responsible for making the change a success than to shut them down.

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How do you create a culture of change?

If you want to create a culture that is ready for change, you must practice changing. This is basically how you create culture, and it can happen, for example, by trying to find solutions to different challenges. In that way you must find change and create it, and that way you practice being ready for change. 

You can also work with learning agility. The ability to learn is about not accepting the status quo, and here all employees and managers have something they work on and develop within. It is also here that leadership development is relevant.

The basic idea behind this approach is that you develop people to grow the business. The hope with the approach is that the whole organization gets used to moving and learns that something better comes out of it. 

There are several elements in the process of building a culture of change. The important thing is that all employees are constantly working on their own development of the competencies that are relevant to the company. This can be through job rotation, division of tasks, project participation or something else. Maybe you have a lot of small changes going on in your organization, or you need to start with one major change. It calls for different development needs. 

Either way, it is by constantly practicing learning new things that employees build readiness for change.

How do you preserve yourself in change?

It is important to get yourself involved in the change process. The learning organization requires that the leader also learns and that you dare to be open about not knowing the result of the change. 

Major changes have often been known and adopted by top management, long before managers and employees hear about them. Therefore, more leaders feel left to themselves when it comes to dealing with increasing complexity at ever higher speeds. 

It is an additional challenge that you as a manager are expected to be a positive and active partner and banner bearer for the change that is to mobilize the employees, while you yourself have had quite a short time to adjust to it. 

Therefore, it is important that you can mobilize yourself. You can build good strategies for self-mobilization through a combination of:

  • Own mental coping strategies (by creating visions, defining, balancing duties, etc.),
  • Conscious use of physical activity as a “valve”,
  • Building trust spaces where you can share concerns without consequences, and
  • Awareness of which managerial activities function as self-mobilization.

Get started with change management

To get started with change management, there are two basic understandings you need to have in play:

Understand the extent and nature of the change.

Assess the readiness for change.

The first part is about the extent of change. Here you relate to what the change is changing for those who are affected by it. Here you can, for example, examine how much the change changes processes, technology, roles, responsibilities, culture and attitudes in your organization.

Try to put yourself in the place of the change participants and make an assessment of how far-reaching a change it is that you are about to initiate. What does it require of energy, and what does it provide of value? In this way, you can assess the extent, weight and impact of the change.

The second part is about the readiness for change among the employees, and what change reactions you can expect to encounter. Here are six needs at stake:

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1. Understanding:

Do employees understand the change? Do they know why you should change and why it should be now?

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2. Motivation:

What is the motivation of the individual employee to take part in the change? Does it increase the efficiency of one’s own work, or does it secure her or his job for the future? Or is the motivation with the company, which can save money as a company or have a flatter structure?

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3. Accountability:

How can employees be allowed to contribute to the change now and in the slightly longer term? As a manager, you should find efforts for which each individual employee can be responsible. By contributing to the change, they are acting their way into a new understanding.

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4. Skills:

Do the employees have the necessary skills to participate in the change, and can they see how they can build skills to perform in the new reality (for example in project management, operating the new machine, working in SAP or similar)? Do they have the prerequisites to learn them? How do you build them?

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5. Information:

Do employees receive the necessary information along the way? Do they have easy access to information, and do they know where to find more information if needed? It is a psychological need to feel adequately informed about what should happen when. It requires a communication plan for what to communicate before, during and after the change.

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6. Support:

What support is needed from the individual employees and teams in relation to understanding, accepting, and talking about the change, in relation to building abilities, in relation to their time and so on? Do they need relief, ventilation, extra resources, new expertise, or something third?

The six needs are about relationships, about getting people involved in the change and about creating balance in a system that is now – due to the change – out of balance. This is what is called Change Leadership. The four phases of change are more about planning and managing change.

It is you as a manager who must assess the nature of the change and the employees’ expected reactions. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools that can help you. For example, Change Readiness Assessment, which can help you with good change management. Or tools that can help you make a good communication plan.

In addition to the tools, there is also competent advice to pick up. We are always happy to help with your next change, and we have 15 years of experience to draw on.v

Have we piqued your interest?

Feel free to contact us if you want to know more about change management or how we can equip you to mobilise your people to drive the next big change process in your business.