How to Create and Run a Change Management Plan

All businesses must face change. Here’s how to develop an organizational change management plan to help your company navigate and thrive through its transitions

Updated March 4, 2020

For a company to grow, it must embrace change. Yet change management is one of the most challenging business concepts to grasp.

Organizations underestimate its importance; transforming staff attitudes and behaviors takes time. Others don’t know how to implement a change management plan.

Still other companies have difficulty fully understanding the business impact of changes; the organization is grappling with something new, and that’s difficult.

So let’s dissect this critical topic in detail. With some insights and handy tips, you’ll be armed with the knowledge to tackle change management in your organization.

Overview: What is a change management plan?

Change management is the concept of helping members of an organization adapt to changes within that organization. A change management plan serves as the roadmap defining concrete steps an organization will take to execute the change management process.

Such a plan is typically part of a larger project management process to implement business transformation.

When a business change is small, like a new step in an existing workflow, the change management process may be as simple as training the applicable staff.

Larger or complex transitions require a more thoughtful, strategic approach because they can be disruptive and unsettling to the team. In these cases, implement a change management plan.

Do you need a change management plan?

Deciding when to use a change management plan can be difficult. Some degree of change management is always required with every project, but small alterations can occur with little or no disruption to the team, in which case a full change management plan is unnecessary.

Here is a three-question test to determine when it’s time for a change management implementation plan.

  • Does the change affect a large swath of your organization, or is it pertinent to just a handful of people? If the latter, a full change management plan is not required.
  • Does the change affect fundamental business processes, or is it applicable to a small portion of operational workflows? If it’s a significant modification to key processes affecting a large number of people, execute a change management plan.
  • How extensive is the change? Evaluate if the scope of change extends to how you do business with customers. If customers are affected, a change management plan is critical to ensure the transition is smooth and does not lead to customer attrition.

What is a change management plan composed of?

Project management principles apply to an effective change management plan. Here’s how these principles pertain to managing change in your organization.

Goals

Just as a project has objectives to achieve, a change management plan has its own set of targets. Two key goals comprise every change management plan:

  • Raise organizational awareness of the impending change.
  • Help the affected teams adopt the change.

As part of these two objectives, identify a quantifiable set of key performance indicators (KPIs). During plan execution, achieving these KPIs indicates you’re on track toward your goals.

Once the changes are implemented, the KPIs allow you to assess if the plan was effective.

For example, in one of my projects, we used revenue numbers as a KPI to assess the impact of organizational changes with the goal being to avoid a revenue drop.

Communication

Communication is the core of the change management plan. Yet I’ve seen organizations fail at this. Many assume an email announcement accomplishes the communication objective.

In reality, change management communication must be carefully considered, and executed on an ongoing basis throughout the change process. It’s not enough to simply announce a change.

For staff to start embracing the impending transformation, messaging must outline the rationale and benefits of these changes.

The communication must also create channels for two-way discussion to take place. Employees will have questions or concerns. They may need help to implement the changes. Therefore, a forum or special process is necessary to allow this dialog to occur.

For instance, the raising awareness piece of change management can kick off with a general announcement at an all-hands meeting where the entire company gets together.

Accompany this with individual or team follow-up to begin chipping away at the goal of helping affected teams accept the transition.

Resistance management

Every project has some degree of risk. So, too, does a change management plan. In the context of change, the biggest risk is resistance from the team who must adapt.

When people have been performing the same work for a while, it’s hard to adjust to a new process. Naturally, people resist the changes. Therefore, prepare to meet this resistance and incorporate strategies to address it.

Training

Helping the team adapt to business change usually involves some degree of training or other educational component. This can be accomplished through special sessions designed to introduce and educate staff on the changes.

Additional training pieces include the use of documentation and subject matter experts (SMEs), who are people deeply versed in the details of the changes and their implications to business processes.

Team members will require a reference source until they’ve fully adapted to the change. To make the transition go smoothly, provide documents that staff can examine to refresh their memory, or a SME who can answer more complex questions.

How to create a change management plan

A change management plan resides within the overall framework of a larger project schedule.

As such, it falls within the project manager’s responsibilities to develop this change plan and apply project integration management to make the entire initiative a cohesive whole.

Although a sub-component of a bigger project, the change piece requires its own set of deliverables, and involves the use of project management techniques and planning in its own right.

So let’s walk through what it takes to create a change management plan.

Step 1: Goal creation

When building a change management plan, start by establishing the plan goals.

What change management goals look like:

Defining the goals can be challenging. Here are some tips to help you accomplish this initial step of the process.

  • Understand the changes: First, be sure you understand the changes being addressed and the associated implications. For instance, if rolling out new software for employees, it’s not enough to know how the software operates. You also have to understand how that software can change the steps in existing workflows.
  • Incorporate awareness and adoption goals: Raising employee awareness and adoption of the change should be part of every plan. So be sure these are included among your goals.
  • Define KPIs: Next, define quantifiable KPIs to measure the plan’s success. A variety of metrics are applicable here, so apply those that make sense given the context of the changes. Example KPIs include reports that measure usage of a new software system, surveys to capture staff feedback, and employee performance stats to determine if the change reduced productivity or increased it.

Step 2: Establishment of a change team

Like any project, change management requires people and resources to execute the plan.

What establishing a change team looks like:

Here are suggestions to help you build a team and gain backing for the plan and the necessary resources.

  • Gain stakeholder support: Every business change involves stakeholders. They can include the CEO, other members of the executive team, or people across the organization, depending on the nature of the change. Get their support for your plan, especially around incentives and resources, to increase your chance of success.
  • Recruit a task force: Develop a task force to spearhead an organizational change management plan. Team members should include people in leadership roles, like a department head, and SMEs who can educate the rest of the team on the changes as well as provide support and answer questions.
  • Determine necessary resources: Change management may not be as resource intensive as the project initiating the change, but identifying necessary materials upfront avoids delays during the execution phase. For example, training the team may require computers, so enough computers must be on-hand to meet training deadlines. Also, budget criteria may need to be outlined as well.

Step 3: Plan development

In this step, project planning transforms into a documented roadmap that lies at the heart of the change management process. This document also helps you avoid scope creep.

What plan development looks like:

This part of the process is akin to developing a general project plan. Let’s review some nuances that apply to change management.

  • Create a task list: Task lists are the pieces of work that must be completed to achieve your goals. For example, the creation of training documentation may be one of the tasks. Creation of this list should include feedback from your task force as well as stakeholders. Communication components are included here as well.
  • Develop a timeline: A due date is typically associated with a change. Therefore, your project plan should revolve around that date. Assign a time component to every task in your list. If some tasks cannot be completed before the rollout of changes, either adjust the due date, or if that’s not possible, determine which tasks can be accomplished after the changes take place, and which must be completed beforehand to prioritize accordingly.
  • Use project management tools: Because change management can be complex, use project management software to increase the likelihood of success. You can build task lists, assign team members and resources, and track progress all within the software, making it easy to know if you’re on track as well as to report out your status to stakeholders. An option like monday.com provides customizable project tracking to adapt to any type of change management project.
monday.com's timeline showing estimated time of different projects and assigned project leads.

The interface in monday.com presents key project information in an easily digestible format.

Step 4: Plan execution

Creating the plan is just the beginning. The rubber hits the road when you are actually executing the change process.

What plan execution looks like:

Because pitfalls can crop up during the execution of a change management plan, here are some suggestions to help.

  • Create decision-making processes: To identify all implications of a business change in advance is difficult, so issues are bound to appear. For instance, a workflow might be impacted that wasn’t previously considered, necessitating swift decision-making to sort out a solution. Therefore, outline a process to resolve these kinds of issues quickly, so employees are not left in limbo or forced to make up a solution on the fly.
  • Address resistance: People resist organizational changes for different reasons. Perhaps someone will be demoted as part of the change, or a team feels afraid that they will lose their jobs. To effectively address resistance, get as much employee participation in the change and be as transparent and communicative as possible from the start. Continue this approach throughout the project to reduce employee uncertainty. As the project progresses and your KPIs point to further pockets of resistance, zero in on specific situations to tackle the root cause of individual resistance.
  • Develop momentum: To build confidence within the organization that the transformation is positive and working, identify and communicate all wins. Also, provide incentives for embracing the change. For instance, throw a party for the team that is first to completely adopt a new software system. By building momentum behind the change in this way, it harnesses the emotional energy of team members, and creates a cultural willingness to accept the change that keeps on growing. This approach also reduces the natural resistance that crops up.

Step 5: Reinforcement

The final phase of change management occurs after the changes are implemented. It’s not enough to assume the team is good to go after being trained.

To encourage employees to continue transitioning their behaviors, attitudes, and workflows to the new paradigms, implement a process of reinforcement.

What reinforcement looks like:

Let’s cover some tips to help you develop a reinforcement model that strengthens employee adoption of change.

  • Provide positive incentives: Too often, organization leaders are apt to apply the stick instead of the carrot, taking a get-with-the-program approach to change. This builds resentment. Instead, it’s more effective to provide positive incentives, particularly if they naturally align with the change. Modifying a cumbersome process to make it easier for the team is an example of a positive incentive. Another example is adjusting performance plans to reward staff for embracing the changes.
  • Leverage SMEs: Staff will have many questions and concerns throughout the transition process, and training is not enough to address these. This is where SMEs are invaluable. They help teammates on an ongoing basis to feel supported and confident that they can master the changes. So be sure teams know their designated SMEs.
  • Review and adapt: Once the changes are live, you can truly assess the impact. Regularly review team progress toward adopting the changes, and be prepared to make further adaptations if the initial planning did not arrive at the optimal solution. For instance, you may have outlined workflow modifications that didn’t go as planned after the business changes took place. Acknowledge the need to adjust, and make the necessary adjustments based on real world experience and data. This builds greater team acceptance and confidence throughout the transition process.

Final advice on change management plans

Keep in mind that change management is primarily about people, not process. It’s tempting to focus on the process piece because it’s more straightforward and tangible than the messiness of people’s behaviors and emotions.

But that approach creates blind spots that lead to failure in implementing change.

For example, if you’re spearheading the switch to a new software system, it’s natural to concentrate on the technical aspects of the new platform. But if the system automates work that was being done by team members, it can make them feel like their jobs are not valued.

Therefore, it’s equally important to communicate how these people can now shift their attention to higher value work, like spending more time with customers, rather than repetitive tasks that are easily automated.

Managing business transformation is not easy, but with a thoughtful change management plan in place, you’ll be well-positioned to successfully champion change in your organization.

The Motley Fool has a Disclosure Policy. The Author and/or The Motley Fool may have an interest in companies mentioned. Click here for more information.