Change management has definitely become a buzzword today. It's a pressing business problem that organisations must address whenever they restructure, launch a new product, merge or acquire a company, or introduce new process changes or technologies to manage key components of their operations.

Our challenging economic environment also contributes to the pressure on change managers to get the change management right the first time.

Many organisations are looking for the secret sauce that will make change management successful.

While there's no single correct solution, we believe a strong communications plan that starts before the change initiative begins, lasts beyond its conclusion, and goes up and down the organisation comes close.

Make sure you are consistent and trustworthy in your communications; help employees understand what support they will receive during the change and what resources they can call on for help.

Any change will make employees fear that they won't do well and might lose their jobs, which makes change a very personal event.

Share the overall vision with employees, but also communicate your expectation that the organisation may make many course corrections during the change process.

Lay out the training and support plan showing how the company will tailor these activities to different audiences (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Business Changes Can Cause Concern Throughout The Organisation

Take A Disciplined Approach
Continuous planning and executive support make change management successful. As you evaluate your change initiatives, be flexible to making mid-course corrections.

While many parts of the organisation can lead change management, we've found that HR often takes a leadership role in change management.

Because change is an ongoing part of business life, many of today's HR executives have expertise in organizational development and have led large-scale efforts to sustain change.

If the change is substantial, outside resources with change management experience often supplement HR staff.

Once you've identified a change leader with experience in organizational change management, they should start working with all of the business stakeholders and business process professionals.

In particular, this leader should start working in parallel with the project manager within the project management office.

Employee moods

Conduct a survey to gauge the employee mood in the areas where change will be implemented to help develop the change management process.

Identify the people and decision-makers who will influence the business process project and plan strategies to get them on board and support the project.

Strategies could include ensuring that executives communicate directly with employees continually and from the beginning and identify a cadre of workers in the different lines of business to act as the project's eyes and ears in the field to give feedback and identify areas requiring more attention.

Your change management plan should identify the different constituencies and change targets at each phase of the initiative.

For example, you may wish to target 60 per cent adoption of the process change initiative by employees after three months and 90 per cent after six months.

Measure the effectiveness of the change management activities in your change plan through employee surveys and interviews.

To drive adoption, some organisations include employees' success in adopting process change as a component of their performance reviews.

Other potential activities include communications tools like newsletters, internal websites, functionality demos, informational workshops, and training sessions.

A Change Management Road Map
To develop a road map for successful change management, I recommend to keep the following top of mind throughout the change process:

1 Maintain full and active executive support throughout the change process. The executive or leader must be completely behind the change process and be ready and willing to communicate as frequently as the change manager determines is necessary
2 Make sure employees understand the need for the change. Not all employees will buy into the change at first, but from the beginning they should know and understand why it is happening and what the expected end results and benefits will be, both to them personally and to the organisation and its customers
3 Communicate with employees, not at them. Use a variety of approaches, such as surveys, interviews, newsletters, discussions, email, executive web and videoconferences, informal lunch meetings, and marketing campaigns, to engage people. Be receptive to their questions, concerns, and suggestions
4 Constantly refine your organizational planning and conduct ongoing analyses. Stay flexible enough to change or adapt plans based on need, and make sure you keep checking the pulse on how employees are accepting the change. Use supporters in the different lines of business to remain aware of hotspots that need to be addressed
5 Give employees visibility into the change process. Provide experiences that allow employees to feel more comfortable with the change and support them via learning activities that begin early and continue throughout the change and beyond.

Claire Schooley is senior analyst on the IT Leadership team at Forrester