The Change Management Process: Everything You Need to Know

CoachHub · 29 July 2022 · 5 min read

Change is hard. How many times have you heard that? But doing nothing in the face of change that’s desperately needed isn’t too pleasant, either. Still, humans seem hardwired to avoid uncertainty. The Cliches ‘R Us store is filled with shelf after shelf of change-averse aphorisms. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. 

The one companies really need to heed, however, is this: the only thing constant is change. In business, the question is not whether change is coming, it’s what you’re going to do about it, and when. Fear of change simply isn’t a viable business strategy. From supply chain ruptures and regulatory shifts to customer preferences, technology advancements, labor issues and geopolitical upheaval, companies are going to have plenty to adjust to over time. They must constantly evolve and adapt. Those that become adept at identifying the need to change and doing so in a timely manner are those that succeed long-term.

What is a change management process?

To be sure, there are plenty of ways to deal with change, from haphazard and reactive to planful and proactive. Having an effective change management process in place makes it easier for companies to address change in a timely manner without causing undue stress on the business. A practical change management process enables organizations to move from problem recognition through successful implementation of the solution seamlessly, whether the change required is incremental and adaptive or monumental and transformational. 

There are specific steps in organizational change management processes. Whichever methodology you choose you’ll find them similar in nature, though the number of steps involved and the way they’re applied may differ. Here are some of the common steps:

  • Prepare the organization for change – This piece is twofold: preparing the organization for change from a company culture perspective and from a logistical perspective. Key questions companies will find themselves addressing include:

    • Are people aware of a need for change? – Depending on the nature of the change and how widely it impacts an organization, they may or may not be. 
    • Do people desire to change? – Team members might understand the need to change, but for any number of reasons they might not want to.
    • Do people know how to make such a change (knowledge)? People may agree that a change is necessary, but they might not know how to go about it.
    • If they know how to do it, are people able to make a change (tools)? This is a critical distinction. People may intellectually understand how to change, but the organization may not have the tools in place for it to happen.
  • Create a change management plan – Like all strategic initiatives, effective execution requires a plan. Start with the end in mind. Define the goal and what success looks like. Establish project milestones and key performance indicators and figure out what you’ll do when they’re not being met. Identify key stakeholders, decision-makers, champions and doers. Anticipate and make plans to squash scope creep, deal with detractors and get around roadblocks.
  • Implement the change – Pretty self-explanatory. Stick to your change management strategy and plan, make adjustments for things you didn’t anticipate (there shouldn’t be many), and be thorough. Any number of things may need to be addressed, including but not limited to the culture, skillsets, go-to-market approach, target market, systems, processes, etc. Do what needs to be done.
  • Make the change stick – Academically speaking, enculturate the change. As we all know, even the best laid plans can go awry. When it comes to organizational change management, lack of attention to embedding the change within the culture and practices of the company is a big reason why 50% of change initiatives fail. Most people aren’t hostile to the change, it’s just too easy to revert to familiar territory. This should be an exceptionally active phase of the change management process. Create listening opportunities. Take advantage of communication channels. Deploy surveys. Monitor institutional controls. Reward positive behaviors.
change management presentation

The importance of coaching to ensure successful change management

Yes, change starts at the top, but the voices closer to the organization—the front-line managers—play a significant role in any successful change management initiative. Much of this revolves around soft skills. These are the interpersonal qualities that enable people to handle conflicts, communicate well, perceive people’s needs and understand their own. Optimism, creativity, patience and decisiveness also make the list. 

Underdeveloped soft skills make it tougher to connect with people, champion ideas, enforce rules or make teamwork happen—all of which are vital to successful change management. Unfortunately, our surveys have found that 77% of top managers report that soft skills are their biggest weakness. 

There is a solution. Coaching helps managers identify their strengths and use them as a springboard to develop the soft skills that make them more agile and resilient—in other words, it makes managers better equipped to help others through organizational change. A long-term, individualized approach to coaching also ensures that leaders, managers and key employees can adapt to a new way of doing things again and again. In fact, teams where managers are coached in a 1:1 setting (online or in person) have a 91% success rate in transforming teams. Those that don’t are only successful 30% of the time.

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The change management process: Two methodologies

This is the first in a series of four blogs where we’ll explore several facets of the change management process. Next up: a look at the pros and cons of the Lewin and Kotter methodologies. The Lewin change management model is a three-step process developed to help leaders facilitate and understand transitions. Kotter employs an eight-step process that addresses the people affected by the change rather than focusing on the change itself. 

Keep in mind that not all change is overly difficult. For instance, most people could adjust pretty quickly to winning the lottery. Companies that make the change management process a part of their culture, however, are better prepared to deal with changes large and small. That makes them more agile, effective and in the end, successful than their competitors.

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