What is Change Management

What is Change Management?

Most regular readers of this blog know that I try to maintain a focus on posts for those in the change management and communication professions.  I’ve had some interesting feedback though of late, that I’ve skipped ahead too far. There’s a fundamental need to explain in basic language just what is change management. Yes. In basic language. There’s the rub. In a space that’s dominated by buzzwords and corporate jargon, explain change management in plain English. Tricky stuff.

At it’s most basic it’s the practices of taking people through the process of learning something new, using something new, doing something different and making sure that those changes are valuable.

I’ve noted earlier that those within the change management profession struggle with how to describe what they do, certainly that was a topic at one of the Change Management Professional’s meet ups last year. Within the varying change management groups in Linkedin there is varying debates on what to “rename” change management. And goodness gracious me, if you though ‘Change Management’ was jargon, you should see the alternatives being suggested (Change Enablement, Transition and Transformation Management, Organizational Behavioural Change Facilitation )

Anyway, back to the challenge at hand. Just what is change management?

It starts with your management (usually very senior) wanting to change the way you work. This can mean:

  • Bring in a new technology (eg a payroll system, a new database for managing records or for managing customers, a new point-of-sale system)
  • Change the way you report or who you work with (for instance, move in to teams, different functional groups, in different locations)
  • Change your role (for instance, start doing new types of work which requires new skills)
  • Introduce a new culture (so encourage people to be more entrepreneurial, work as a team more, share information more)

But just as you can’t move house, lose weight, increase your financial status, bring home a new baby without some level of preparation, planning and assistance, neither can a business manage these types of changes very well without some change management support.

How do you know when you have not had change management?

So if we take a Sherlock Holmes approach, what are the signs that you have NOT had change management assistance or change managers around?

  • The mojo is missing. Things just feel different and not so good!
  • People feel like they are mushrooms – y’know, kept in a dark corner and fed umm, erm, cow poo
  • You and your colleagues don’t feel there’s much information out there about what is happening so start making up very plausible pieces of information to fill the gap. These plausible pieces of data may or may not be true.
  • People are feeling more emotional than usual at work (eg scared, cynical, worried)
  • There’s increased sick leave.
  • There’s increased work load.
  • Your managers are more stressed than usual.
  • You read in the paper that your company is not doing so well financially.

And let’s flip it, dear Watson, what are the signs you have change managers or change management support in the business?

  • There’s a few new faces around, and they’re probably arguing over what to put in their email signature (“No – don’t call yourself change management, that’s scary…call it transformation facilitator”)
  • Hopefully, the new faces are doing a lot of listening, and asking really good questions of a lot of people. They might use the term ‘stakeholder analysis’ for this.

They’ll be doing a number of things, like,

  • Developing a change strategy – which is basically working out what approach to use to introduce the new way of working and making sure the approach fits with the business needs.
  • Developing an implementation plan – which is a step-by-step plan on how to roll the change out. It should involve milestones, time schedules, who’s going to do what and how you will know if it has been successful.
  • Developing a comprehensive change communication plan (how best to communicate with everybody during the time that you are going through the change), and yes, I’ll pick up on this in the next post.
  • Thinking about how to deal with change resistance – that’s because they assume that the majority of you are not going to like the change and will “resist”. I have other thoughts on that, but safe to assume this will be going on.
  • Hopefully, addressing the change readiness – which means they are working out how to ensure you are as ready for change as possible (eg do you have the resources you need to carry out the change?)
  • Throwing around a lot of words like BAU, Go-Live, Change release. The words don’t matter as much as the fact that they are there. Trust me.

If senior management have really done their homework, these change management folk will  be around way before you need to make the changes. If things have gone a bit pear shaped, they may be brought in in bulk after implementation with capes flowing, underpants on the outside, and flying invisible planes.

So how did I go? Plain English enough? Does this make sense to you ….would love your feedback.

Dr Jen Frahm – Author of Conversations of Change: A guide to implementing workplace change.


  1. Julieanne says:

    I love it – I like the Sherlock Holmes analogy, very easy to relate to.

    I do, however, think it’s missing a few components of change management which are probably the more ‘tangible’ ones – change impact assessment, training, and resource planning most notably. I guess this is more on the implementation side as opposed to the planning / comms side.

  2. Hi Julieanne, thanks for dropping by. Really useful comments – it serves to highlight the lack of clarity even within the profession, so not surprising that those outside of the space are not sure what it means.

    So to clarify, I would include a change impact assessment, and resource planning as part of the change readiness activity. Training is always part of an implementation plan for me, though I do know that some use training interchangeably with a communication plan (which I’m not so keen on).

    But you are spot on that change managers often come from different perspectives – from that matter, different projects will need a different focus than others.

  3. Kim says:

    Agree with the need for simplicity. Business jargon seems to make up for an inability to communicate.

    My perspective of change management is that its about helping to identify (using whatever tricks you have up your sleeve), develop and implement (and it will not always be the dedicated change person doing this) whatever it takes to move people from point A to point B with as minimal impact to them and the busines as is possible and for those changes to be effective and stick.

  4. Hasan Hijazi says:

    Dear Ms. Frahm,
    I feel, some how that i understand the aspect more. I am a HR manager from Jordan. My new job is to start a change management process. I am not a HR graduate but i try to keep myself updated. I have 14 years of experience in HR.
    I do need your help on how to start the process of change management plan. Would you please help me?
    Thank you and regards

    Hasan Hijazi

  5. Hasan, pleased to hear this has assisted. I can reccommend Stephen Warrilows website for many practical templates to assist you. He also has an e-book out that will help your prepare your own change plan http://www.strategies-for-managing-change.com/ Good luck!

  6. Karen says:

    “with capes flowing, underpants on the outside, and flying invisible planes” … wow, wish that was my uniform as a Change Manager! But I sometimes feel more of a Richard Dawkins than a super being (not as exciting wardrobe, I acknowledge, but great sense of humour).

    Organisations are complex, dynamic organisms, that are unpredictable in their response to change. One planned change usually leads to one or more unanticipated changes and complications. Was there ever an evolutionary reason for baldness? Or did one ‘business improvement’ in humans also result in a ‘genetic architectural flaw’? Just like humans, organisations are never a blank canvas on which to build change, and tinkering in one area often buggers up another.

    Many roles in organisations bring planning and analysis skills to business change, but we are often the lone ‘Evolutionary Manager’. People who help organisations navigate through the uncertainty, the unknown and the unexpected that accompany business change in organisations.

    Jennifer, could we also say goodnight to Change Management, and hello to Evolutionary Management?!

  7. Deb says:

    Lovely and hilarious blog post that helps change management take itself a little less seriously and a little less jargon-speak-ly…mushrooms and cow poo, so to speak.

    Art, science, and consulting experience with just plain people emotions (William Bridges comes to mind) all help, as does your well done, plain talking post.

    Thanks for fertilizing the consulting pasture with some good stuff; may it straighten up the change talk for the better.

    Twitter: @RevelnConsults @changetools

  8. cyndi dawes says:

    thanks for this…I have already shared this with some new consultants as a prompt for their thinking….

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