Change is hard. But while many organizations cling to outdated or unprofitable practices, successful organizations are adopting change management principles and people to achieve their goals. Whether organizations are facing big or small changes, their success depends on how they navigate them.

Historically, this process has been known as project management, but there’s a difference. Between project management and change management: Change management can be interwoven into the overall project, but with a different focus. Both project management and change management deal with moving from a current state to a future state, but the emphasis, tools and tasks can contrast.

Project management ensures that your solution is designed, developed and delivered, while change management ensures that your solution is effectively embraced, adopted and used.

The Five Tenants of Change

To understand why and how organizations change, let’s explore the five tenets of change. By studying, embracing and following these tenets, you can improve how you manage and lead change in your organization.

  1. We change for a reason.

The reason could be almost anything. It may be the expanding expectations of customers or regulators that require you to do business differently. If you don’t change, your organization risks losing customers or being shut down for non-compliance.

  1. Organizational change requires individual change.

Organizations are made up individuals with unique thoughts, perspectives, experiences and opinions. So, how can you manage individual change? Change is really about individuals adopting new ways of doing things, learning and becoming proficient using new skills, and not slipping back into the “old way of doing things” out of habit. Organizational change, no matter how large, is really about the individuals within the organization embracing and adopting the new ways of doing their jobs.

  1. Organizational outcomes are the collective result of individual change.

If individuals within your organizations don’t or won’t embrace change, your organization can’t implement change. Expectations won’t be met, and a slower rate of adoption or lack of proficiency may result.

  1. Change management is a framework for managing the people side of change.

You can have a perfect system implementation — on time, on budget, tested beautifully, new equipment installed — but if no one uses it, what good is a perfect system? You need a framework to manage the people-side of change to meet project expectations.

  1. We apply change management to realize the benefits and desired outcomes of change.

This final tenet focuses on results or desired outcomes of your systems and of your people’s individual contributions. If your people don’t embrace change, please see tenets one through four.

The Phases of Change Management

When facing an organizational change like a new system implementation, we often jump in with new training courses, equipment, and communication plans. But first we have to consider the different phases of change management.

Phase 1.) Prepare for change to develop a customized and scaled approach with the necessary sponsorship and team structure. This phase is needed to determine if the change will be incremental or immediate. Your strategy and tactics will be influenced by the type of change and timeframe, whether it takes 30 days or 18 months to achieve business results. Also use this phase to consider the risk of failing to achieve your desired changes.

Identify your project sponsor and understand their role and responsibilities. Having an engaged, active, and visible executive sponsor is the single largest predictor of project success. Determine which groups or departments and individuals will be impacted and plan how to communicate, train, support and coach them.

Confirm the needed resources. Will project resources be available to help with the people-side of change? Who can assist with tasks like distributing communication, developing training materials or coaching supervisors?

Finally, anticipate who or which groups within your organization may be the most resistant to change. Identifying potential resistors early on will help you put strategies in place to address resistance and move forward.

Phase 2.) Manage change to create and implement plans that will move the organization and individuals through change.

This phase involves:

  • Creating plans to communicate with organizations.
  • Initiating executive sponsor activities.
  • Coaching.
  • Training.
  • Managing resistance.

As you begin to implement the change initiative, you’ll start transitioning individuals and the organization from the present to the future. On both the individual and organizational level, you should explain why the change is needed and identify who is willing to support it. From there, make sure they have the knowledge and the ability to implement and sustain it.

Phase 3.) Reinforce change to ensure that the appropriate changes are adopted and sustained. In this phase, you will begin to understand what worked, what didn’t, and the progress of both individuals and the organization toward achieving their goals.

Key activities in this phase are:

  • Collect feedback from employees.
  • Audit compliance to the “new normal.”
  • Identify gaps.
  • Identify resistance and address it.
  • Celebrate success.

By employing all three of the phases above, you can gather an accurate picture of your change initiative’s success. Work with managers and supervisors to actively address resistance, coach employees toward the desired behavior, gather feedback, and recognize and reward adoption, and you will be well-positioned to celebrate a successful change initiative.

Sometimes it feels like the only constant is change. A thoughtful, structured approach to managing change allows your employees and organization to be more nimble and responsive to the ever-changing business climate and achieve desired business outcomes. Change is hard, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.