Change Management: Definition, Benefits, and Examples

Change Management: Definition, Benefits, and Examples

Organizational change isn’t always easy, but it’s a key component to remaining competitive in a rapidly evolving business landscape. Whether in response to fluctuating markets or new technology, a company’s ability to adapt to change can make or break its bottom line.

That’s where change management comes in. Throughout this article, we’ll reveal how the right change management strategy can foster growth and opportunity. We’ll also explore actionable strategies for leading change within your own organization.

Table of contents:

What is change management?

Change management refers to a structured approach to implementing change, usually at an organizational level. Imagine, for instance, that a company has decided to switch to a new customer relationship management (CRM) system.

While the key stakeholders know what to expect on the technological front, they also realize that even the best CRM system isn’t of much use if employees don’t know how, or simply refuse, to use it. Rather than hope for the best, they decide to design an effective change management plan that outlines initiatives such as:

  • Creating a communication plan to let employees know what to expect during the transition
  • Outlining training processes that ensure all team members have the resources and information they need to learn and implement the new system
  • Appointing change leaders to oversee training and answer questions
  • Creating a realistic timeline that includes both short-term milestones and long-term implementation goals
  • Addressing concerns and earning the buy-in of employees who are uncomfortable with the new system

Developing an implementation plan can shorten the time it will take for the company to begin enjoying the benefits of its new technology or systems. It can also reduce or eliminate the risks that come with implementing new technology.

Types of organizational change

Organizational change management is an important part of any business transformation a company faces. Common types of organizational change include:

  • Strategic change. Strategic changes usually involve new processes or policies designed to adapt to threats or embrace new opportunities. Examples include mergers, acquisitions, or company expansions.
  • Structural change. Structural changes usually refer to internal shifts of responsibility. They might involve hierarchical changes within a management team or a change in which teams are made responsible for new business processes.
  • Cultural change. Cultural change describes a company’s commitment to embracing new behaviors, beliefs, or policies. These changes might take place in order to attract new talent or as a response to feedback from customers or human resources, or to strengthen weak security protocols, for two common examples.

The key is understanding that no matter what type of change projects your organization faces, a successful change management plan can help it go much more smoothly.

Key stakeholders and their roles

In order to be successful, organizational change requires widespread cooperation and effort. A stakeholder engagement strategy can be a game-changing component of a successful change initiative.

This process identifies key stakeholders and outlines the role that each will play in ushering in the upcoming change. Internal stakeholders might include:

  • Executives and senior leaders. These senior leaders can play a vital role in gaining widespread company buy-in for the change by outlining its benefits and how it will help shape the company’s future.
  • Project managers and change leaders. These internal change agents are often assigned to oversee multiple teams' progress toward a common goal.
  • Subject matter experts (SMEs). SMEs are outside guides who specialize in the change your organization is about to undertake. They can help with anything from team training to strategizing.
  • Process owners. In terms of change management, process owners are the people directly responsible for designing and implementing the change management plan.
  • Employees. Employees are often the most directly affected by organizational change. Securing their buy-in and willingness to adapt is essential to the change management process.

Benefits of effective change management

Effective change management offers many advantages for organizations undergoing transformations. The core benefits are:

  • Improved adaptability. A structured change management plan enables quick adaptation to market shifts and technological advancements, maintaining business continuity and agility.
  • Enhanced morale. Clear communication and involvement in the change process improve employee morale by making transitions smoother and more predictable.
  • Increased efficiency. Organizations can streamline transitions by setting clear milestones and roles, reducing redundancy, and enhancing productivity.
  • Better risk management. Effective change management anticipates risks, allowing for preemptive measures to mitigate potential challenges during transitions.
  • Competitive advantage. Being adept at managing change secures a competitive edge, allowing businesses to seize opportunities and foster innovation for sustained growth.

Effective change management fortifies organizations against uncertainties, boosts internal morale, and positions them for future success through increased adaptability and strategic foresight.

Change management models

Organizational change management is far from a new concept. Business leaders have long attempted to nail down the best approaches to ushering in transformational change at an organizational level.

In the following sections, we’ll introduce you to some of the most popular models that have emerged since the early 20th century.

The Prosci ADKAR Model

A key element of the overall Prosci model, the ADKAR model states that organizational change begins with individual change. ADKAR is an acronym for the five elements that are needed for individual change, including:

  • Awareness of the reasons the change is needed
  • Desire to support and become a part of the change
  • Knowledge of how to go about making the change
  • Ability to develop the skills needed to make the change
  • Reinforcement to ensure the change is sustained long-term

Lewin's Change Management Model

First developed by Kurt Lewin in the 1940s, Lewin’s change model is a three-step organizational change framework. It breaks changes into three major stages:

  • Unfreeze. Removing resistance to change by clarifying why the change is necessary and beneficial.
  • Change. Capitalizing on the willingness to change by providing direction and emphasis on the benefits of the change.
  • Refreeze. Locking in the recent change to ensure that it becomes the organization’s new normal.

Kotter's 8-Step Process

Kotter’s 8-step process was introduced by Dr. Kotter in the 1996 book “Leading Change.” The process has since become a popular template for approaching organizational change through the following steps:

  • Create a sense of urgency. Inspire and motivate people to work together to accomplish the change needed.
  • Build a guiding coalition. Establish an internal network of volunteers dedicated to helping coordinate the change.
  • Form a strategic vision. Explain how the transformation will change the future for the better.
  • Enlist a volunteer army. Fire up employees to actively contribute at an individual level.
  • Enable action by removing barriers. Anticipate and remove any roadblocks that could stand in the way of success.
  • Generate short-term wins. Celebrating short-term victories and milestones encourages persistence.
  • Sustain acceleration. Continuously identify and leverage new opportunities for change to help your organization stay adaptable.
  • Institute change. Embed new practices into your organization's culture, processes, and mindset, making the change a permanent part of your organization’s identity.

Elements of the change management process

The path to successful change management can look different for each organization, as well as for every change that has to be introduced. Rather than focusing solely on the individual change management models above, notice that there are several core concepts that they all have in common.

Each acknowledges that change doesn’t happen overnight. It tends to happen in stages, including pre-change, change, and post-change. Throughout the following sections, we’ll give you some tips on how to select the right strategies for each stage of your change management plan.

Change management plan development

Successful change management begins long before the change itself. Start by identifying your key stakeholders who will form your change team—the group that will be responsible for developing your strategy.

Your team might include members of human resources, your company’s management team, or other internal volunteers who are interested in participating in the process. Each must be willing and able to adhere to a predictable meeting schedule.

During this stage, you’ll want to ask questions such as:

  • What is the goal of the upcoming change? What benefits does it offer?
  • Who will the future change affect, and how?
  • Will some teams or employees be more impacted by the change than others?
  • How can we develop an effective communication strategy that alerts everyone to the upcoming change and proactively address any concerns they may have?
  • Who will be in charge of fielding additional questions that team members may have?
  • How can we offer any training, tools, or resources that may be needed to implement the change?
  • What is a realistic timeframe for each milestone along the way to full implementation?
  • Who will be responsible for overseeing progress?
  • Should we use senior sponsorship or team leader strategies for extra support?
  • What metrics should we use to measure progress?

There are also various change management software options available that can help you answer the questions above and streamline the process.

Change control

Another helpful issue to tackle during your planning stage is who will oversee change control. A change control team is essentially the oversight committee of the change management process. They’re responsible for overseeing issues like:

  • Assessing the pros and cons of the initial change, as well as any future changes to the implementation plan
  • Submitting changes to the original plan and evaluating who should have the authority to approve them
  • Assessing the positive and negative impacts of the change
  • Documenting each stage of the change process, including who did what and when (particularly important if your team is still building competency with a new technology)
  • Planning for contingencies when the implementation is disrupted, so that the overall goal can be achieved while unforeseen issues are effectively addressed

Starting change initiatives

Once your plan is in place, you can begin the initial stages of putting it into action. It’s no accident that all the change management plans we mentioned above begin by generating support and working through resistance in the early stages.

Always anticipate some degree of initial skepticism. This is normal and can be addressed by choosing one or more dedicated team members to champion the change and address questions.

Select volunteers with strong management skills, patience, and empathy. The right approach here can go a long way toward winning people over.

If you find yourself fielding questions, focus your answers on the benefits that the change has to offer and the need for teamwork. Offer reassurance that everyone will receive the support or training they need for a smooth transition.

Implementing change: strategies and techniques

All the hard work that went into creating your plan will pay off when it’s time to begin implementing changes. Whether your change effort involves adopting new methodologies, technology, or business processes, having a strategy to work from can make the process far more efficient.

Trust the work you and your team put into creating a sound plan while remaining adaptive. Pre-planning for the larger aspects of change management will help you address any unforeseen circumstances quickly and efficiently.

Successful change implementation

The further you get into your change initiatives, the more important project management will become. Check in regularly with team leaders about their progress toward milestones and address any challenges along the way.

But remember that celebrating wins is just as important. Consider offering initiatives like a paid day off to employees or teams who stand out as leaders throughout the change process. Maintain effective communication to keep the entire organization aware of any benefits the company sees as a result of your collective change efforts.

Last but not least, don’t assume that that transformation is complete once the last training session ends or the merger papers are signed. Long-lasting change involves ongoing support and reinforcement.

Preparing for future change

Preparing for future change is crucial if you want your organization to stay competitive and adaptable. By developing a proactive approach to change management, you can position your company to navigate and even capitalize on future challenges and opportunities.

This involves fostering a culture of continuous learning, innovation, and agility within your organization, as well as investing in the necessary tools, processes, and skillsets to support your ongoing change initiatives.

Begin by testing out your new strategies on small change initiatives. This can be a great way to learn what does and doesn’t work for your company, all while helping you prepare for larger future change efforts.

With persistence and experimentation, you’ll learn to foster a culture of effective communication and adaptability. These qualities can promote internal efficiency and give your company the competitive edge needed to quickly adapt to shifting markets and business needs.

Hire change management professionals on Upwork

Developing a structured approach to change management can take the stress out of adapting to new innovations and embracing growth opportunities.

If you’re interested in learning more about change management or developing a plan for your organization, Upwork is happy to help. As the world’s work marketplace, Upwork is home to top independent change management specialists available to help with anything from strategic planning to project timelines.

Or perhaps you are a change management expert searching for your next project? If so, then Upwork would love to help connect you to the right client. Check out the opportunities currently available on our change management job board and connect with clients from all over the world looking for your services.

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Change Management: Definition, Benefits, and Examples
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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