Change management

Change management is the process of developing a planned approach to change in an organization. Typically the objective is to maximize the collective efforts of all people involved in the change.

Change management can be either reactive, in which case management is responding to changes in the macroenvironment (that is, the source of the change is external), or proactive, in which case management is initiating the change in order to achieve a desired goal (that is, the source of the change is internal). Change management can be conducted on a continuous basis, on a regular schedule (such as an annual review), or when deemed necessary on a program-by-program basis.

Change management can be approached from a number of angles and applied to numerous organizational processes. Its most common uses are in organizational development, information technology management, strategic management, and process management. To be effective, change management should be multi-disciplinary, touching all aspects of the organization. However, at its core, change management is primarily a human resource management issue. This is because implementing new procedures, technologies, and overcoming resistance to change are fundamentally "people issues".


The psychology of change

Attitudes towards change result from a complex interplay of emotions and cognitive processes. Because of this complexity everyone reacts to change differently. On the positive side, change is seen as akin to opportunity, rejuvenation, progress, innovation, and growth. But just as legitimately, change can also be seen as akin to instability, upheaval, unpredictability, threat, and disorientation. Whether employees perceive change with fear anxiety and demoralization, or with excitement and confidence, or somewhere in between, depends partially on the individuals psychological makeup, partially on managements actions, and partially on the specific nature of the change.

An early model of change developed by Kurt Lewin (1951) described change as a three stage process. The first stage he called "unfreeezing". It involved overcoming inertia and dismantling the existing "mind set". Defense mechanisms have to be bypassed. In the second stage the change occurs. This is typically a period of confusion. We are aware that the old ways are being challenged but we do not have a clear picture to replace them with yet. The third and final stage he called "refreezing". The new mind set is crystallizing and one's comfort level is returning back to previous levels.

An individual's attitude toward a change tends to evolve as they become more familiar with it. The stages a person goes through can consist of: apprehension, denial, anger, resentment, depression, cognitive dissonance, compliance, acceptance, and internalization. It is management's job to create an environment in which people can go through these stages as quickly as possible, and even skip some of them. Effective change management programs are frequently sequential, with early measures directed at overcoming the initial apprehension, denial, anger, and resentment, but gradually evolving into a program that supports compliance, acceptance, and internalization.

Management's role

Management's first responsibility is to detect trends in the macroenvironment so as to be able to identify changes and initiate programs. It is also important to estimate what impact a change will likely have on employee behaviour patterns, work processes, technological requirements, and motivation. Management must assess what employee reactions will be and craft a change program that will provide support as workers go through the process of accepting change. The program must then be implemented, disseminated throughout the organization, monitored for effectiveness, and adjusted where necessary.

In general terms, a change program should:

  • Describe the change process to all people involved and explain the reasons why the changes are occurring. The information should be complete, unbiased, reliable, transparent, and timely.
  • Be designed to effectively implement the change while being aligned with organizational objectives, macroenvironmental trends, and employee perceptions and feelings.
  • Provide support to employees as they deal with the change, and wherever possible involve the employees directly in the change process itself.

Change management in organizational development

In the field of organizational development (or OD), change management is thought of by some as the sine qua non of OD, where OD is defined as "planned change."

Change management in information technology

Some definition of change in IT:

  • From Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute (SEI) Software Capability Maturity Model (SW-CMM):
    • The purpose of Software Configuration (Change) Management is to establish and maintain the integrity of the products of the software project throughout the project's software life cycle.
    • Software Configuration (Change) Management involves identifying the configuration of the software (i.e., selected software work products and their descriptions) at given points in time, systematically controlling changes to the configuration, and maintaining the integrity and traceability of the configuration throughout the software life cycle. The work products placed under software configuration management include the software products that are delivered to the customer (e.g., the software requirements document and the code) and the items that are identified with or required to create these software products (e.g., the compiler).
  • From United Kingdom's Office of Government Commerce (OGC) Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL):
    • Change Management is the practice of ensuring all changes to Configuration Items are carried out in a planned and authorised manner. This includes ensuring that there is a business reason behind each change, identifying the specific Configuration Items and IT Services affected by the change, planning the change, testing the change, and having a backout plan should the change result in an unexpected state of the Configuration Item.

See also Change Management (ITIL)

This activity is closely related to configuration management.

Change management in industrial plants

Proper management of change to industrial facilities and processes is recognized as critical to safety, since complex processes can be very sensitive to even small changes. In the US, OSHA has regulations that govern how changes are to be made and documented. The main requirement is that a thorough review of a proposed change be performed by a multi-disciplinary team to ensure that as many possible viewpoints are used as possible to minimize the chances of missing a hazard. Change management in this context is referred to as Management of Change, or MOC. MOC is just one component of Process Safety Management, or PSM. There were several large industrial accidents in the 60s and 70s that could be seen as the impetus for this regulation. As other examples, poor change management most likely played a part in the plane crash that killed John Denver, and was questioned in modifications to the fishing vessel in the book The Perfect Storm that may have made the ship less stable.

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