What is Change Management?

Change Management Series – Chapter 1

We live in a world that is constantly changing – the pace of change seems to get faster and faster. It’s hard to keep up sometimes. In AWA, the people we work with often tell us that their organisations are “always changing” and that “change is normal for us”. That may be the case, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that change is delivered well, nor that the change endures over time. So what is change management?

Clearly there are different types of change happening in organisations – some are about modifications to business processes, to the technologies being used to deliver tasks, to the organisational hierarchy / structure and so on. Arguably some if not all of these require some element of behavioural change – and none more so than the introduction of new ways of working.

This requires people to adopt new habits and behaviours – leaving behind those they may have been living by for many (many) years. Those habits are hard to break because they have become engrained to such a degree that they happen automatically and consume little energy to repeat every day. People need a jolly good reason why they should try to break their habits because it really does take a lot of energy!

Is change all about loss and grief?

Many approaches to change take as their starting point the fundamental loss that people experience when a lot of changes occur. There are stages through the journey which are about anxiety associated with the loss, denial that the change will actually occur, the hitting of a low point associated with resistance to the change – and then a gradual coming to terms with the new order through experimentation and eventual acceptance. There is also an acknowledgement that the journey won’t necessarily be taken in one direction – people regress as well as make progress through it – and yes, often they get stuck.

There is merit in this approach – people seem to be able to identify with the stages articulated but it doesn’t always deliver the most positive outlook – grief after all can be intensely painful.

Rational Understanding and Emotional Engagement

AWA takes a different approach to explain the journey and guide people through it. It’s more optimistic than likening each change journey to a state of grief and loss – but it does address what we believe people need in order to contemplate and ultimately make the change in their behaviour.

AWA Advanced Workplace Associates: The Change Journey - Rational Behaviour - change journey - change management - workplace behaviour changeOur fundamental belief is that people firstly need to really understand what the change is about, before they can engage with it, finding out what they will lose, what they will win, and how the change will affect them should they choose to alter their habits and behaviours.

This diagram outlines the approach, and in the next blog of this series, we will look at this in some detail – but for now, we believe that through accumulating factual, logical information about the change (to quite a level of detail) people become ready to engage with it in order to find out the fundamental “what’s in it for me?”. This journey needs to be taken by everyone involved in the change – from the senior leadership through all levels of management and staff. Only in this way will everyone have the opportunity to understand the truth about the change (as opposed to what they’ve heard by the water cooler) and what it actually means for them.

This blog is the first in a series of observations about behavioural change management which we hope will provide readers with a good understanding of what is needed to help people change. This is based on 25 years’ experience supporting clients making a change to new ways of working. Next time we will look at the principles of change as outlined in the rational / emotional model above.

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