The Times They Are A-Changing: 3 Ways To Optimize Your Change Management Strategy

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Last updated March 2023

There’s the old adage that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, but you could probably safely posit that there’s a third constant, as well: change.

And, just as certainly as change is inevitable, you’ll inevitably find that many, many people are opposed to it.

“People are naturally prone to resist change,” says Judd Moore, a product manager with SUCCESS Computer Consulting. “I think that’s human.”

Just ask any company or brand that tinkers with a classic formula (new Coke) or, heaven forbid, tries to discontinue a fan favorite (McDonald’s, which recently announced its orange Hi-C drink will return to its menus after consistent customer outcries). In fact, there are actual neurological, psychological underpinnings to why humans are resistant to a disruption of their status quo, which illustrates the importance of adopting a change management strategy as a first step in any organizational adjustment, whether you’re installing new technology or trying to implement a refined process for your workflow.

“So often in tech, you just give users new tools, have someone install them, and you might get five minutes of instruction or a one-sheeter and it’s like ‘okay. Use it. It’s gonna be awesome,’” Moore says. “Maybe, maybe not. People might see the vision, they might resist, or they might go around it.”

Whether you plan to implement a formalized change management strategy for your organization or simply want to home in on some workable best practices, let’s explore some of the foundational building blocks of a sturdy change management framework.

Put your people first

While you might think a certain change or update you’re considering at the enterprise level doesn’t really affect your team or employees, at the end of the day, your organization is comprised of individuals, and the better you communicate forthcoming changes and provide context, the higher your likelihood of success.

“If people don’t have information, they tend to get frustrated,” Moore says. “Really change management strategy is just a way to explain: ‘okay, this is why we’re doing what we’re doing,’ and get them onboard.”

Ask yourself: do my employees know how this change will benefit them? The business? Put yourself in their shoes, and think about the questions you’d ask if you were in their place.

“Take the time to frame it up for people,” Moore suggests. “Help people adequately understand ‘what’s in it for me?’”

Talking the talk: a common language with ADKAR

While it’s important to consider your change management strategy, there’s no need to redesign the wheel—take ADKAR, for example, developed in the ‘90s by the business consulting firm Prosci. Moore said it’s a simple, straightforward framework for organizing your thinking around change management: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement.

A fundamental idea behind ADKAR is that change needs to happen on the individual level before it’s possible on the project or organizational level, and the key to moving individuals through the five stages of ADKAR is clear communication, or getting everyone speaking a common language.

“One of the key components is people speaking the same language,” Moore says. “If people don’t have information, they tend to get frustrated.”

Beyond communicating the change (awareness) and the reasons it will benefit your employees and business (desire), there are some steps you can take to generate better organizational buy-in, like leveraging the enthusiasm and knowledge of early adopters and executive sponsorship.

“Even if the executive doesn’t craft the messaging, having them deliver it is so much more effective,” Moore explains.

Even though the change might not be driven at the executive level, getting everyone on the same page at the leadership level and presenting a cohesive message will smooth the transition for the entire organization.

Walking the walk: Stop, start, continue

Once everyone’s rowing in the same direction with regards to why and how the change needs to happen, there’s the actual implementation to consider. This is where the “knowledge,” “ability,” and “reinforcement” elements of the ADKAR acronym come into play.

If you’ve identified and cultivated executive sponsorship of the change and messaging, and early adopters who can take ownership of a project’s success, that’s the first step. But what good is the most innovative, dynamic tech tool if no one is using it? How will it spur greater productivity if your staff doesn’t feel they’ve been well-trained with the necessary knowledge to use it?

Take Microsoft 365, for example, with its range of useful features and functions. What use will it be if everyone is sending edited, updated documents as email attachments instead of using the co-author capabilities in OneDrive? Giving ample time and opportunity for training and questions (knowledge and ability) and then subsequent follow-up (reinforcement) is key for a shortened adoption horizon.

“If the tools have been provided seem like barriers—whether they actually are or not—some people are going to go around them. And why wouldn’t they?” Moore says. “They’ve got a job to do, they’re going to try to do it.”

One way to positively reinforce new changes is through implementing a “stop, start, result” exercise with elements of the change. Rather than saying “try to do it this way from now on,” be explicit about the actions or processes you want to discontinue (stop), what the new actions or processes are (start), and especially the benefits to the individual of the new way over the old (result) to help build desire.  This is one of the methods SUCCESS applies not only within its Microsoft 365 Champions Consulting training sessions, but to its internal change management practices, as well.

“Change management can just help people get on board and speak the same language more quickly,” Moore says, “And overall get onboard with the change faster.”