Planning for Organizational Change

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard Business School professor who has written extensively about change management, has stated that successful companies develop “a culture that just keeps moving all the time.” This presents organizational leadership and Human Resources with the challenge of understanding the human side of change management – alignment of the organization’s culture, values, people, and behaviors – to achieve the desired results of change.

No single methodology fits every organization, but there is a set of planning practices that can be adapted to a variety of situations. Using these planning practices as a framework, leadership and Human Resources can understand what to expect during the change process, how to manage their own personal change, and how to engage the entire organization in the change process.

The planning practices I’m outlining can be used for managing any type of change – some examples are a department reorganization, a change in departmental leadership, or an organization-wide change. In this post I will cover the planning phase of change management. My next post will cover the implementation of the planned change.

The planning phase incorporates five practices that you will need to address.

  1. Address the “human side”. As we all know, change creates “people issues.” A formal approach for managing the change should be developed and utilized on an ongoing basis as the change moves through the organization. The change-management plan needs to be based on a realistic assessment of the organization’s history with change, the organization’s readiness for change, and the organization’s capacity to change. The plan needs to begin with the leadership team, then key stakeholders, and then move systematically through the remainder of the organization.
  2. Make the case for change. As you well know, individuals will question the need for the change, whether it will lead the organization in the right direction and whether they are personally committed to make the change happen. The creation of a vision statement that articulates the reason for the change and the result you anticipate from it is an opportunity to create leadership team alignment and answer potential questions from individuals during the implementation phase.
  3. Assess the cultural landscape. It is critically important to understand the organization’s culture and anticipate behaviors at each organizational level. A thorough cultural assessment can help you and leadership move forward and identify possible conflicts and resistance to the change. The cultural assessment serves as the baseline for designing the essential elements that will lead to a successful change.
  4. Address the culture thoroughly. The leaders need to define the desired culture and behaviors that will best support the new way of doing business and then identify opportunities to model and reward those behaviors. Also, devise a detailed plan that specifically outlines the desired end-state. One effective way to jump-start a cultural change is by identifying the organization’s cultural center – the center or source of thought, activity, influence or personal identification.
  5. Prepare for the unexpected. Change-management programs never go according to plan – people react in unexpected ways, resistance occurs, and the internal and external environment can shift. There are six sequential and predictable stages of change.
  • Stage 1: Loss to safety – feelings of fear, thoughts are cautious, and behavior is paralyzed
  • Stage 2: Doubt to reality – feelings of resentment, thoughts are skeptical, and behavior is resistant
  • Stage 3: Discomfort to motivation – feeling of anxiety, thoughts are confused, and behavior is unproductive
  • Stage 4: Discovery to perspective – feelings of anticipation, thoughts are resourceful, and behavior is energized
  • Stage 5: Understanding to awareness – feelings of confidence, thoughts are pragmatic, and behavior is productive
  • Stage 6: Integration to flexibility – feelings of satisfaction, thoughts are focused, and behavior is committed and engaged

Now that you have the implementation plan outlined you are prepared to move into the implementation phase. As you do this, keep in mind that you will most likely find that you have overlooked some issues that arise. That’s when you need to revisit and tweak the implementation plan. Plan on the stages moving slowly for some groups and individuals and quickly and smoothly for others. Build the 1/3 – 1/3 – 1/3 rule into the implementation plan. The rule of thumb is one third of the organization will adopt the change openly; one third will be skeptical of the change but are willing to give it a try; and one third will resist and may attempt to undermine the change. Effectively managing the change requires continual reassessment of the organization’s readiness and ability to adopt it. Enjoy and learn from the journey through change. Stay tuned for the next blog covering the Implementation phase.