What is change management?

/What is change management?

Change management may seem like a new thing, but the importance of it has been building for years. Business transformation has become the norm in the past decade, and perhaps even further back. The global economic crash in the late 2000s had an immeasurable impact on organisations around the world, leading to layoffs, belt tightening and ‘efficiency’ initiatives.

At the same time technological advances have had their own entirely separate disruptive effect on businesses around the world. The advent of mobile technology, digital marketing, social media and the internet of things have completely changed how we talk to customers and how businesses talk to us. Our relationship with the world is now built around technology, and that change has only happened in the past ten to 15 years.

To succeed in this perpetually shifting business landscape, organisations have had to make tough decisions and employees have become used to the constant change. However, this does not mean they welcome it, particularly when so called ‘lean initiatives’ are often a poor cover for redundancies.

Businesses are about people

What can be easy to forget when organisations consider the necessity of a Business Improvement implementation is that its employees are its largest asset. A motivated, engaged and secure workforce will be more open to change and more willing to adopt the improvements in the long term.

However, what we often witness, is a very narrow focus on the way businesses intend to improve their processes, productivity and output with limited thought given to the staff who will be facing those changes. That is not to say that the change may not be necessary, but it is absolutely essential to have employee buy-in if a scheme is to be successful.

We often teach that the success of your Business Improvement initiative is down to how well you plan your change management. This is because overall success is equally dependant on the quality of the solution and the level of acceptance within the business.

Effectiveness, Acceptance, Quality

No matter how fantastic a new approach is, it simply will not have the desired impact if the staff do not accept it and are not motivated to do it.

Legitimate fears of change

One of the key reasons people resist change is due to fear. The fear could be of any number of things, fear of job security, fear that their job will change and they’ll no longer enjoy it, fear that the customer experience could be damaged or fear that change agents will humiliate or expose them by highlighting inadequacies.

Most of the time these fears are perfectly legitimate and must be addressed in order to move on. If, for example, an organisation has tried Lean in the past and it simply lead to redundancies then you would expect employees to have concerns about a new Lean initiative. A proliferation of these fake Lean initiatives have damaged the perception people have. Those concerns must be addressed by explaining that Lean is not a cover for layoffs and should cut costs by increasing efficiency rather than reducing headcount. Failing to tackle the concerns head on, and assuage those fears, will lead to resistance which can be passive or could actively undermine the efforts of the improvement team.

Another issue could be that efficiency measures will highlight that people have been doing things wrong or inefficiently. This can be worrying as no one likes to be shown up, particularly in a professional setting. This concern also has to be tackled head on. Moving to increase efficiency is not about ridiculing the way it was already done because individuals don’t go to work to intentionally do a bad job; most just do the very best they can in the circumstances. Businesses must focus on reminding people to look forward, not dwell on past mistakes.

bad change managementChange management is so important because it provides a structure for listening to those concerns and also opening up those lines of communication. An effective change management programme allows employees to highlight what they are worried will happen, and allows the business to explain the structure to staff so that there is transparency in the process.

Managing expectations

One of the most important aspects to change management is that it allows the organisation to manage the expectations of the workforce. A segment of the staff could be excited initially and then become frustrated and demotivated if they feel change is not happening quickly enough, on the flip side other employees could feel that change is happening much faster than they expected.

Managing expectations from the start can prevent the dip in acceptance and buy-in that comes when people feel an initiative is not going as they expected or wanted.

However, another key aspect is the importance of continuing change – and this is particularly important for management level staff. Many improvement programmes fail because they are considered as a single programme with a start and finish, with work returning to normal afterwards. But for initiatives to be successful, they require a change in management style and culture so that everyone is always looking for ways to improve.

Preparing both staff and managers about what to expect and what is expected from them can prevent people becoming disgruntled and put out as the programme progresses.

Guiding the way

Some resistance to any change can be good, as it can force businesses to consider potential problems they’d perhaps not recognised at first. However, unanticipated and unaddressed resistance can completely derail an improvement initiative. It is important that any business transformation is guided by a change management programme that will provide the mutual channels for communication and keep everyone engaged with change.

Speak to us today about how we can help you with change management so that your improvement initiative runs more smoothly and has a higher chance of success.

making a change

By |2017-02-22T16:39:21+00:00February 15th, 2016|Business Improvement, Change management|5 Comments

About the Author:

With a background in journalism, content writing and digital marketing, 100% Effective's Marketing Manager Philippa has a passion for putting Lean Six Sigma under a microscope to make it more interesting and accessible for everyone.


  1. Stuart Morris 2nd March 2016 at 10:29 am - Reply


    I like the article but shouldn’t the formula include some measurement of management support and rather than acceptance of the organisation a more accurate metric would be the resistance of the workforce? Therefore should it read:

    Effectiveness of the outcome = (Quality of the solution x Support from management) / Resistance of the workforce

    This way if the management support the idea their input will greatly influence the outcome and similarly if there is increased resistance from the workforce this will reduce the effectiveness of the outcome.

    • Philippa McIntosh 2nd March 2016 at 10:52 am - Reply

      Hi Stuart, thanks for your comment! You’re right, support of the management and resistance of the workforce do have a huge image on acceptance so your equation is potentially more accurate. I’d say that acceptance overall is the sum of those two things – you won’t get acceptance if there is workforce resistance or if the management are unsupportive. I consider it more a key for those running improvement projects to ensure they are looking after all the elements that could have a negative impact on acceptance.

      But, if your equation works better for you then I say use that instead!

  2. Cristina Devecchi 4th March 2016 at 7:48 am - Reply

    Philippa, this was a thought-provoking piece. I agree with Stuart that we need to take into consideration management. Your post seems to brush over the fact that sometimes it is management which is the most reticent and sometimes it could be middle management which is the barrier to implementing change. This is particularly important to take into consideration in ‘know-how’ organisations like universities where you are managing academic staff with specific expertise. But my point is actually about thinking differently and very much so. Instead of ‘lean’ can we think ‘fat’? Why do we assume that efficiency is always about doing more for less, less here being the key? and why do we, therefore, assume that change should be the means to achieve more for less? i feel that we end up achieving less for less and instead of expanding we run the risk of shrinking the opportunities we have for growth. I think the time has come to think big, to leave the ‘lean’ years behind and invest to grow and develop and seize the opportunities of the fast-changing knowledge economy.

    • Philippa McIntosh 4th March 2016 at 10:06 am - Reply

      True Cristina – In many ways middle management think they have the most to lose (respect, power, authority). I think the idea of doing more with less, means that you then have the ‘newly available’ time and resources to plow into those opportunities for growth, but when it’s not well implemented (which is, unfortunately, commonly the case) you are right there can be a focus on ‘less’.

      • Cristina Devecchi 4th March 2016 at 8:38 pm - Reply

        I think you nailed it! A loss of power and authority, and related to this a loss of self-efficacy and self-determination, are important and at times overlooked reasons why people are less than happy with change. I think this is even more so the case for organisations which thrive on the professional ‘expertise’ of their workforce. Such expertise, as it is the case in universities, for example, takes many years to grow and become known only to be dismissed and relegated to the sidelines. So less is not bad in itself. However, it is what we take away that matters. So in pursuing efficiency we always need to balance out effectiveness and fairness.

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