What Is Change Management Anyway?

Posted on Posted in Change Management, Project Management
By Erik Van Slyke, Managing Director, www.erikvanslyke.com

A marketing exec friend of mine gave me a call the other day to catch up. After swapping stories about families and our current work, he finally asked after years of knowing me, "What exactly is change management anyway?"

I had to think for a moment before answering him for a couple of reasons. First, because he’s miles away from IT, HR, PMO’s and the project world, and I didn’t want to lose him to jargon. And second, I continue to try to revise the pithy elevator statements I use to answer that succinctly, powerfully, and in a manner that would immediately resonate with potential clients.

In these situations, I generally apply the Mother In-Law Rule. If my mother in-law understands my explanation, then I probably have it right. I’m not questioning my mother in-law’s intelligence. She’s a sharp cookie. But her native language is Italian and she hasn’t worked professionally since the 1950’s. In her world, if you want someone to change, feed them well and they’ll do anything you want . . . there’s something to that!

So, I answered my friend saying, “Change management is the process of helping organizations plan for, implement and manage the human side of projects like technology implementations, merger integrations, or restructurings. We help make sure that people get excited about the change and don’t create problems that cause missed deadlines, budget overruns or poorly used new capability.”

“How do you do that? What do you do?” he asked.

I thought about taking him through an example and explaining things like as is/to be analysis, business requirements documentation, readiness assessment, stakeholder analysis, communications planning and execution, training and knowledge transfer. I thought about explaining the difference between technical challenges and social challenges, and the approach for solving social challenges. I also thought about talking about urgency, organization alignment, resistance, and vision.

Instead, I applied the Mother In-Law Rule and said . . . “I listen.”

I listen to make sure we understand the needs and concerns of those who are receiving and those who are implementing the change. I listen to understand executives and business leaders. And I listen to understand the culture and values of the organization.

Then, with that understanding, I help clients take a variety of actions to make sure all of these groups help make the new thing successful.

By listening to the organization, we begin to see through the eyes of those that will experience the change. We empathize. And that give us the ability to know how to engage others by linking the change to what’s important to them.

“Oh, I get it,” he said. “It’s a lot like marketing.”

Exactly.