Think of how often you hear the term change management in relation to a new business process. What’s your reaction? Is it “More of that high level stuff that sounds good, but . . .” or is it “Give me something concrete that I can really use to help my staff understand this new process and feel more comfortable with the change”? Methodologies, frameworks, and best practices abound, yet up to 60% of change management projects fail — and these failures are expensive. Should businesses just accept the fact that changes like the introduction of a new email system, a merger or acquisition, or a larger business transformation project are just going to be tough, and no resources are really effective?

Change management can work, but it’s a hard, continuous, and often frustrating process with no shortcuts. Any change management must have detailed planning, strong executive support, continuous and varied communications, assessments to gauge successful milestones, many training approaches, and reinforcement until the process becomes part of the new culture. The change leader needs deep experience in organizational change management. Whether this person is an external consultant or an inside person with a change management background, in most cases this leader also will need to develop a strong team relationship with the project manager.

As I talk to organizations that have experienced change, one message is clear: The technology is the easy part; the people part is the real challenge. You are dealing with a wide range of emotions from the fear of losing one’s job to the resistance of workers who are vocal that the way they were doing things before was better. This means that, as a change management leader, you must know your workers, their concerns, fears, objections, etc., and plan approaches to help them move through the different change management emotional stages to the point where they accept the new process or approach —even though they may not like it, they need to get to the point where they are willing to work within the new process expectations. A stakeholder cadre must be prepared, have resources, and spread throughout the organization to communicate more directly and help employees understand the change. These people can answer questions, dispel fears, and be the eyes and ears for the change management staff as they keep a pulse on the effectiveness of change activities.

Change management leaders don’t have to start from ground zero; methodologies and other resources exist to help. I’ve found that successful organizations closely examine the various methodologies and pick one, or blend components from two or more methodologies that best fit their organization and stick with them, continually pushing forward even when the going is tough. One resource that brings together some of the best thought leaders and change management practitioners is ACMP (Association of Change Management Professionals). This association is having its first conference — ACMP Global in Orlando, Florida — from May 1-4. If you are involved in any aspect of change management, this is a great opportunity, not only to hear the gurus in the field like John Kotter and Daryl Conner, but also to learn about the latest trends, and meet and network with other change professionals and practitioners in your industry. This is also a subject that Connie Moore and I will tackle at Forrester’s IT Forum, May 25-27 in Las Vegas, and at our EMEA event in Barcelona from June 8-10.

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