Change is constant, and change management is, too. Technology, globalization, a remote workforce and other factors now make change management an increasingly critical business process. No matter the cause or type of change, all businesses want change to occur smoothly, effectively and with minimum disruption.

Change management goes by many definitions. Numerous meanings circulate among books, articles, blogs, courses and consultancies. I apply this definition to most situations: Change management is a process by which an organization defines, plans, equips and prepares employees to implement a change that affects the business.

How L&D Affects Change Management

In companies of every size, the learning and development (L&D) organization can — and should — contribute to the development and implementation of a change management program. Let’s emphasize the word “program”; the more thoroughly the elements of change management are described, prepared, communicated and supported as a program rather than an “effort,” the greater the likelihood of success. A program can have clout and meaning that an effort doesn’t.

Your L&D organization may wear any of several labels while contributing to change management:

    • Coordinator
    • Supporter
    • Orchestrator
    • Facilitator
    • Driver
    • Enhancer
    • Partner
    • Provider

That list does not suggest that those roles are all there are or that L&D can fulfill only one of those roles. Your team should take the initiative to establish its specific role(s) that uphold your business’ change management philosophy and strategy. Doing so will enable you to fulfill a continuous role in all change management situations and to identify how L&D can engage in each sequential change management scenario.

By assuming a partnership role from the beginning, L&D can engage from end to end in the design, development and delivery of the change management program, not simply the training portion of it. In three key areas throughout that design, development and delivery, L&D can affect change management: communications, awareness and skills.

Communications: Surround and Support the Program

To succeed, every change management program requires well planned and smoothly implemented communications. The size of the company and the vastness of its pending change determine how large a role L&D will play in communications, but that qualification should not limit your effort to contribute to and support your company’s change management communication plan. A thorough communication plan has three time segments, each of which should involve L&D:

Before the Change

Communications about the pending change and the change management plan should include specific references to the training that will be available. Change is unsettling for many, and communications should include every effort to relieve the tension sparked by change. Information about training offers confidence-building assurance.

Make sure announcements about the change and the change management program include bulleted information about L&D, such as:

    • Training sessions: topics, purposes, objectives.
    • Audiences for the sessions.
    • Dates and times of the sessions.
    • Contact information for questions.

If the change is substantial, you may want to provide supportive communications just about the training. These messages will include logistical information and clear statements of what the change is and why it requires specific training in order to succeed.

During the Change Management Training

At frequent, appropriate points, the training facilitator should reinforce that the purpose of training is to make the change successful. This reinforcement will likely require more than just a statement or two; it pays to indicate specifically what and how the training contributes to effective change implementation. Here are three ways the facilitator can do so:

    • Ask learners how they see the training supporting their future performance in the context of the forthcoming change.
    • Discuss how learners would learn to succeed with the change if there were no training.
    • Throughout the training, intersperse opportunities for learners to point out advantages of the change and benefits of the learning to help manage the change.

After the Change

All training requires reinforcement to ensure learners transfer it to their jobs. Such reinforcement is especially valuable when training for successful change in structure, process, operations or any other aspect of work performance. Follow-up communications from L&D cements the skills and knowledge learned and strengthens the credibility of your L&D practices and commitment to learning. You might try these post-training communications:

    • What is one specific skill you learned and use consistently since our change?
    • How difficult or easy is your work after our change?
    • Did our training provide the skills and knowledge you need, or are you resorting to work-arounds?

Awareness: Promote Comprehension of What, Why and How

From an L&D perspective, change management enables employees to perform their jobs in concert with and in support of the change. The more thoroughly individuals and teams understand the change, the more readily they accept, learn and perform in accordance with it. Comprehension means knowing the “what,” “why” and “how” of the change.

The “what/why/how” sequence matters. When people learn a change is coming, their immediate question is, “What is it going to be?” The desire to know the reasons (“Why?”) follows. Once satisfied with answers to those questions, people facing the change ask for the specifics of how: “How will it change my work? How will I do my job differently? How will I manage the change?”

In order to reinforce the understanding of the change and its what, why and how, the training should validate each repeatedly. The more comfortable employees are that they know what change is occurring, why it is occurring and how it will change their work, the more confidence they will have in the company’s decision to change and their ability to handle the change.

Considers these examples of such reinforcement:

What the Change Includes

    • Provide clear, concise comparisons and contrasts between the “change from” and the “change to.” (These comparisons and contrasts likely include the overall change and specific components of it.)
    • Share specific elements of the change; for example, detail each step, identify each “sub-change,” and create lists by system, platform or workstream.

Why the Change Is Happening

    • Include the formal, official statement of the change and the plan for change management at the outset of training.
    • Offer the major reason for the change — for example, reducing operating expenses, increasing data accuracy, reducing production time or improving customer success.
    • As necessary, clarify the “sub-changes” that will lead to the major change. For example: “Reduced operating expenses and improved customer success come from introducing artificial intelligence to customize customer options based upon their interactions.”

How the Change Will Impact Learners

    • Introduce every module of the training, whether it teaches focuses on skill or knowledge, by identifying the relative change in learners’ work and saying, “This is why you’re learning about this topic.”
    • Frequently point out and invite discussion of how the learning is tied to a change in learners’ work.

Skills: Build Both Technical/Business Skills and Interpersonal Skills

Any change demanding formal change management likely requires significant upskilling or reskilling by the workers involved. This training is typically specific to changes in technology, organizational structure, or overall business strategy and goals. This training will vary from one company to the next and will be different depending on to the company’s change, objectives and culture.

Interpersonal skills are a likely complement to the technology and business skills specific to the company’s change. They may include skills that are obviously interpersonal, such as presentation, conversation or negotiation, but they may also include skills that are individual skills that people may need in interpersonal situations. Some examples are problem-solving, decision-making, collaboration and teamwork, and strategic thinking.

Changes in operational flow, functional alignments or end-to-end processes (to name a few) may mean that individuals are assigned to new teams. These teams usually involve working with different individuals, with co-workers who have different skill sets and work styles or who are from different geographic regions or cultures. In cases such as these, training to enhance and improve interpersonal skills can be a key element of the change management program.

Examples of interpersonal skills training:

Our definition of change management clearly implies the important role an L&D team can play in driving successful change: Change management is a process by which an organization defines, plans, equips and prepares employees to implement a change that affects the business. By communicating awareness of the reasons and processes of change and by providing opportunities for employees to develop skills and acquire knowledge, your L&D team can lead the way to successful change.