Change management is a systematic approach that includes dealing with the transition or transformation of organizational goals, core values, processes, or technologies. In short, it is about helping people accept and adapt to change at all scales — from a simple process update to onboarding new enterprise software. And though change management has always been important for businesses, it is more urgent than ever in the face of growing customer demands, digital transformation, and the pace of business evolution. A change method can’t save an organization, but it can help them learn how to evolve.
Meaningful business change, however, is easier said than done for many reasons:
- At the process-level, organizations are adapting to a new way of working. A lot of processes already exist, and members of your team may believe in one “right” way to do things and are resistant to change.
- Many organizations fail to appoint a clear owner to oversee change and create the necessary alignment across people and teams.
- Implementing new software is hard. When it comes to product management systems, for example, product managers are dealing with a whole new category of tools that many are still unfamiliar with. Champions of change have to educate their team on why they deserve a solution of their own and convince them that it’s worth learning.
Some models and frameworks exist to help organizations overcome the challenge of change, such as KOTTER’s change model, the McKinsey 7S Framework, and more. Regardless of which you follow, we’ve found that they can all be distilled to five common elements:
People (who are impacted by and who will be involved with the implementation the change)
Priority (an identified list of changes and their priority)
We’ve coined these principles and considerations the “5 Ps of effective change management.” Below, we dive into each P in more detail.
The 5 Ps of effective change management
A sense of purpose motivates people and supports an environment of greater autonomy. The more people who understand why a change is happening and can relate that back to a core sense of purpose, the less you’ll need to provide tactical guidance, babysitting, and even training.
The more people who understand why a change is happening and can relate that back to a core sense of purpose, the less you’ll need to provide tactical guidance, babysitting, and even training.
So, as a change leader, it’s your job to connect people to the why behind the change. What’s the vision of the change? Where do you want to be? What does success look like? Why is this change needed? The answers to these questions should inspire, motivate, and help people understand that the future will be worth the pain of change.
When we work with our customers to promote the adoption of productboard, we help them effectively communicate their why. Here are some examples of why statements:
- We’re doing this because our teams have feedback all over the place.
- We don’t have an easy way to share our product vision, strategy, and objectives, and our cross-functional teams are frustrated with us.
- No one understands what we are building next and why.
Change management goes beyond managing the process of change, it involves leading people who must change themselves to make the efforts successful. After all, change inevitably involves people — people both implement and are affected by changes.
Co-creation is the process of including your employees and customers in elements of ideation and design of a solution. It’s a critical departure from traditional approaches to change that engage stakeholders only after the new solution is designed and built. Many people working together to solve a problem are much smarter than one.
There are a few key stakeholders to consider when it comes to change management:
- Those directly involved in the change
- Those whose input may be valuable in ensuring a successful change effort
- Those who need to be informed of the change and its purpose so they can prepare for its effective implementation
- Resistors and influencers
Co-creation isn’t a democracy, and it’s not about everyone agreeing (and many will disagree, with big change comes resistance). Instead, it’s about leveraging the collective intelligence and insight of your entire organization to create the best solution, as well as approaching resistance with empathy and understanding.
Change management is not a one-and-done affair. You often have to make decisions around which tasks to tackle first, similar to product management. Think about a product backlog —you need to prioritize and come out with a list of to-dos that everyone is aligned on. There is no way to address every single item on it.
We have a simple three-step process for prioritization that we suggest for our customers:
- List all options. Map out everything that you think will need to be accomplished to achieve the change.
- Prioritize. Consider what each task demands from your teams, like the time needed to work on each change or how each change may affect productivity. Make special note of any options that will bring high impact or disruption. At productboard, we use a cost/value 2×2 chart for visualizing what needs to be accomplished during the change process.
- Create your plan. Map your prioritized options on a Kanban-style board or wall. Figure out things you’ll start working on right away, things you’ll consider doing in the future, things you aren’t sure about, and things you won’t work on now. Make a point of revising this regularly and get rid of stale ideas if needed.
Traditional change management is often approached as a one-and-done, “big bang” style task. However, our complex environments demand agility. The right path forward can rarely be wholly planned at the outset as complex change almost always encounters unknowns that require adaptation on the fly. Organizations must move away from fully-baked plans for change management and instead adopt a sense-and-adapt approach that includes room to explore. This means getting comfortable with experimentation, iteration and, most importantly, failure, which is the lifeblood of learning.
The right path forward can rarely be wholly planned at the outset as complex change almost always encounters unknowns that require adaptation on the fly.
You don’t have to make all your changes at once. Instead of driving to an ideal future state, make continuous change the new normal, and use experiments to reduce uncertainty.
For change management to be effective, you need to have buy-in from stakeholders. To achieve this, transparency is key — you need to open up about failures, wins, and make space for people to come and just talk. Many organizations forget to demonstrate proof and encourage the communication needed to earn buy-in. Teams adopt change but no one talks about it.
Proof is what moves people from being detractors to supporters, then to advocates of change. When people feel a sense of ownership over the transformation and engage in the process, they won’t need to be trained or convinced to participate in their future – because they built it themselves. They own it and are motivated to make it a reality.
Here are some rituals that can help everyone see what’s happening and make them part of your plans:
- Lean coffee: A structured but agenda-less meeting. Participants gather, build an agenda, and begin talking. Ideas from discussions like these can become potential experiments.
- Weekly check-ins/retrospectives: Provide a space to capture new change ideas as potential experiments, identify roadblocks, and evaluate progress and success metrics
- Transparently share your plans. Get your plans up on the wall (or more likely, a Slack channel), celebrate wins and milestones together, recognize and reward, and encourage knowledge sharing and storytelling.
Instead of managing people through change… empower them to realize the change.
In the modern business world of rapid change and everything going digital, creating an open-minded and adaptable organizational culture has never been more important. Fortunately, the crowded landscape of change management frameworks can be distilled to a set of common principles and considerations — purpose, people, priority, process, and proof. Change leaders that take all five Ps into account are well on their way to bringing about continuously successful change that propels their organizations forward.
Want to get started with your change plan? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.