Organisational Change Management


Why, What, How?

Almost all people are nervous about change. Many will resist it - consciously or subconsciously. Sometimes those fears are well founded - the change really will have a negative impact for them. In many cases, however, the target population for the change will come to realise that the change was for the better.

The Trauma of Change - click for PowerPoint version

The pace of change is ever increasing - particularly with the advent of the Internet and the rapid deployment of new technologies, new ways of doing business and new ways of conducting one's life. Organisational Change Management seeks to understand the sentiments of the target population and work with them to promote efficient delivery of the change and enthusiastic support for its results.

There are two related aspects of organisational change that are often confused. In Organisational Change Management we are concerned with winning the hearts and minds of the participants and the target population to bring about changed behaviour and culture. The key skills required are founded in business psychology and require "people" people.

Organisational Design - click for PowerPoint versionContrast this to Organisational Design where the roles, skills, job descriptions and structure of the workforce may be re-designed. Typically that is a more analytical and directive activity, suited to tough-skinned HR professionals. It is not a topic for the ePMbook.

Organisational Design may be a specific objective of the project, for example where there is to be a reduction in the workforce, or it may just be a consequence of the changed business processes and technology.

Organisational Change Management issues are often under-estimated or ignored entirely. In fact, people issues collectively account for the majority of project failures.

What Caused The Project To Fail?

Why Projects Fail - click for PowerPoint versionThis survey looked at disastrous projects. One of the questions asked for the prime cause of the failure.

Although the result did not spell out "people" as the cause, it is interesting to note that many of the causes were to do with the behaviour and skills of the participants. Arguably all but the "technical issues" were related to the capabilities, attitudes and behaviour of people.

Why were the Benefits Not Delivered?

Causes Of Benefits Not Being Achieved - click for PowerPoint versionA different study examined whether package implementation projects' benefits had been achieved. Where they had not been delivered, the question "why?" was asked. Top of the list was "organisational resistance to change".

Again, several other causes were related to people, their skills and their behaviour. "Lack of business ownership" is a major responsibility of the Organisational Change Management work. Such things as "unstable requirements", "not meeting expectations", and "poor project management" would also be partly due to behaviours and skills.

Organisational Change Management is a vital aspect of almost any project. It should be seen as a discrete and specialised workstream. Why then, you might ask, do we discuss it as part of the Project Management work. Unfortunately, it is common to find that the human component of the project is not recognised as a separate element of the work. The project management team frequently have to do their best to ensure that a technological change is successfully implanted into the business. In the worst-case scenario, the project leadership do not see this as part of their responsibility either and blame the organisation's line management when their superb new technical solution is not fully successful when put to use.


Organisational Change Management at project start-up

Many Organisational Change Management issues need to be clear at the start of the project so that appropriate activities can be included in the plans, and so that appropriate roles and responsibilities can be established. Here are some of the key issues:


The Case for Change

As part of the project definition, there should be a compelling "Case for Change" which can convince all participants and, in due course, the target population. If everyone agrees that the project has good and necessary objectives, they should be far more supportive of the changes.

This is not the same as the project's main business benefit case. The business case is likely to be founded on business strategy and financial results - often not a compelling argument for the individuals in the workforce.

In a "Case for Change", it should be clear that there are better ways of doing things - better for the organisation, better for the workforce, better for customers and (maybe) better for suppliers.


The Project Sponsor is usually the person who saw a need for change and had the authority to make something happen. There may be several sponsors who collectively have this role.

The precise ownership of the project is more a matter for the Project Definition work. What counts from an Organisational Change Management perspective is not the actual ownership and rationale for the project so much as the perceived sponsorship and purpose. For example, the project might exist because the Finance Director wants to cut costs, but it could be a better message that the Chief Executive wants to build a slick organisation that can beat the competition.

The original Project Sponsor will often have the power and status to create and deliver the project and may be able to deliver the change messages to the areas of the organisation directly involved. In many cases, however, the change is broader than the immediate influence of the Project Sponsor. Other supporting sponsors may be required to promote the project in other areas of the organisation.

Make a Sponsorship Map - initially to show who is involved and what support they are offering. Use this to identify who else needs to participate and what they need to do.

In major change programmes many parts of the organisation will be involved, for example:

Stop / Start Animation

Sponsorship Cascade - click for PowerPoint versionA significant project will require a cascade of sponsorship, such that all affected parts of the organisation hear strong support from their leadership. If the message is delivered from the top and reinforced by the immediate management, staff are far more likely to believe in the case for change and to act in support of the changes.

For critical business change programmes the message should come from the very top. Get the Project Sponsor to engage the Chief Executive as the prime source of sponsorship messages. (You may find yourself writing the words for the Project Sponsor to give to the Chief Executive - but the key thing is that it is then seen as the Chief Executive's personal message.)

Not everyone listens attentively to their Chief Executive, so it is important that these messages are cascaded down to all parts of the organisation, with local management echoing and supporting the party line.


Case Study

A large, multi-divisional professional services firm was changing its timesheet system - affecting every member of the organisation. They recognised the need for acceptance and compliance from everyone so they built an all-encompassing sponsorship cascade.

When the team was finalised it was apparent that the sponsorship team was considerably larger than the project team building the new system.


Resistance to change

By definition, people are affected by change. A few will comfortably accommodate any degree of change, but most people have a change journey to undertake.

Part of the art of Organisational Change Management is to:

Many people will hide their negative feelings. It is not wise to be openly critical of your bosses and their new ideas. Some people will not even be aware of their own resistance which, nevertheless, affects their behaviour sub-consciously. Understanding their position requires more than listening to what they say. Organisational Change Management specialists use an array of diagnostic tools to uncover the true characteristics and attitudes of the target populations.

The most common response to impending change is a negative response where, initially at least, the target population sees the change as a bad or threatening thing. Psychologists have researched these "bad news" responses and found that there is a common emotional response. This chart shows how the individuals oscillate between inactivity and high emotion. Assuming the final outcome can represent a good thing from their perspective, the goal is to leave them in favour of the change and highly motivated to make it work.

The "Bad News" Curve

Response to Negative Change - click for PowerPoint versionHere are some thoughts that might be expressed by someone passing through the "bad news" curve:
  • Oh no!
  • It can't be true!
  • You cannot be serious!!!
  • Can we sort this out some other way?
  • That's it - after 20 years of service they want me to...
  • Am I going to be part of this?
  • Yes, I can live with this - it's not bad really.

The "Good News" Curve

Response to Positive Change - click for PowerPoint versionA different emotional curve may occur where individuals are initially in favour of the change. In the "good news" curve, the risk is that they will be disappointed by the reality of the change or the effort it will take to achieve it.

In these cases, you should recognise the likelihood of disappointment during the change process. Be ready to lift them out of the trough in time to benefit from their enthusiasm.

Resistance to Change - click for PowerPoint version Resistance to change is normal. The Project Manager should expect to encounter it and deal with it. The worst time to encounter resistance is during the cutover to the new solution. Transition is usually a busy, critical, high-risk period when the last thing you need is a lack of co-operation from the target population.

Try to surface issues and resistance earlier in the project so that there is time to get the target population engaged before any damage is caused. Some Organisational Change Management experts suggest that you should deliberately upset the target population early in the project so that you can guide them through the emotional curve and change their attitude. That may be taking the principle too far - but, if there is going to be resistance, try to deal with it early.


Using the right change style

The design of the project's approach should take into account the optimum style of addressing organisational change issues. In general, the target population will be more supportive of the changes if they have been part of the change process. The cynical view is that you should make them feel part of the process even if you prefer to ignore what they have to say. In fact, their active participation is likely to add to the quality of the solution - it should be taken seriously. Conversely, if they feel their views were sought then ignored they are likely to become more resistant.

Working with a broad selection of the target population adds time and cost to the project. The degree to which you involve them will depend on the magnitude of the change. A straightforward non-controversial change may require no previous contact. If, for example, you are simply introducing a new set of expense codes you can publish the message "with effect from 1st April, new codes must be used as per the attached book". Conversely, if you are making huge changes to the job and lifestyle of the target population you will need to work with them to gain their co-operation, for example, if you wish them to re-locate voluntarily and re-train for substantially altered jobs.

Here are some change styles that may be appropriate:

Change Style vs Degree of Change - click for PowerPoint version


Case Study

A computer hardware and services supplier needed to restructure the workforce to achieve dramatic cost savings. They decided upon a fully collaborative approach where all employees were invited to a series of workshops to examine the case for change, analyse the problems and define solutions.

By the end of the process, not only were the employees fully backing the restructuring, but individuals were even recognising that they themselves would be redundant and volunteering to leave.


Case Study

An Organisational Change Management expert was addressing an audience at a conference. After some time, a senior member of the armed forces was feeling highly frustrated. He stood up and asked for an explanation. "I don't see the point of all this", he said. "I give an order and my people carry it out."

Who was right? Why should the workforce not just do as they are told?



One of the main tools for promoting change is communication. Early in the project an initial approach to communication will be formulated. It has two main purposes:

Messages supporting the project's change objectives should be carefully constructed. The best media should be identified to convey the right messages to the right people at the right time. During the project, these messages and methods will be refined based upon achievements, feedback and the changing circumstances of the project.


Organisational Change Management at phase start

For each phase the change management plan will be prepared in detail. Input and feedback from previous phases will inevitably lead to modifications to the overall approach.

Update the Sponsorship Map to show who is involved at this stage and what is required of them. As part of the launch activities for the new phase, sponsors should be informed, briefed and reanimated. Their continuing support should be ensured.

Often a new phase means new team members and new participants from the business. Make sure there is a good process to capture their support and enthusiasm.


Organisational Change Management during the project

Organisational Change Management techniques fall into two main types:

It may also be appropriate to couple these organisational issues and needs with the mainstream design work of the project, so that certain issues could be solved by the way the solution is designed. It may be easier to make the solution fit the people rather than the people fit the solution.

The input activities are essentially forms of fact-finding and analysis. Organisational Change Management experts have many specialised tools to:

In the absence of an expert you would fall back on basic fact finding and analysis, coupled with common sense and experience.

Output activities tend to be various forms of communication, for example:

Although the change management analysis, design and planning may be specialist tasks, much of the change output can be applied by other project team members. All team members will have opportunities to spread the right message. In many cases, the way they approach a given activity might have a significant affect on the target population - increasing or decreasing resistance.

Non-specialist team members should be given the basic skills and understanding to promote organisational change. They should also be guided by the specialists (if any) and by the project's change management approach and planning.


Case Study

A Project Management expert was hired to coach the IT project managers of telecommunications service provider. In a "collaborative" style, he led a conversation about the relationship with the business, trying to draw out a consensus that the business and its end users were essential players in building a successful IT solution.

But the project managers were unanimous. One summed it up - "what we need is a big brick wall to keep the users away from us".

That is a problem with a collaborative approach - what do you do when the population turns in the wrong direction?


Organisational Change Management at phase end

The end of a phase is always a good time to review progress. Many organisational change activities are imprecise in their effect. It can be hard to measure whether the target population has now become sufficiently supportive for the project to succeed.

Take a fresh look at the organisational issues:

The conclusions will be fed into the planning for the next phase of work.


Organisational Change Management at project end

The test of change management is whether the new business solution can be launched successfully in as efficient and pain-free a manner as possible. The lead up to the transition is often the most intense period. In many cases it is the first time the affected populations really become aware of the changes (although, as you saw above, it is not wise to tackle change issues late in the project). Now they are confronted with changed jobs, new procedures, new skill requirements, training courses, and maybe even physical re-location.

In some projects not all the current workforce will be required for the new solution. Dealing with the painful process of redundancy is normally left to the HR and line management functions. There are, however, two big issues for the Project Manager:

By this stage in a major change, there needs to be a substantial support mechanism for the target population. As the key messages are communicated, the project team needs to be ready to help and prepared for the inevitable issues. By this time, the sponsorship cascade should be complete and solid - often extending down to local champions carefully placed in the users' teams. Support mechanisms will ease the users' troubles, for example with appropriate training at the right time, desk-side coaching, good help desk / call centre support.

Organisational Change Management should not stop with the end of the project. During the Benefit Realisation stage of the lifecycle, continuing emphasis will be needed to encourage the community to adapt to the new ways of working and get the most from the change.





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