Once you have started thinking about change not as a singular event but as a process, the question remains: how do you manage the process of change? Managing change as a process takes place on two levels:

  • Individual level
  • Organizational level

Individual-level of Change

Each individual employee or manager who is impacted by a change must go through their own personal process of change. If the change impacts five people, then each of those five must move from their Current State through their Transition State to their own Future State. If the project impacts 500 people then there are 500 Current-Transition-Future processes that must occur. If the initiative impacts 5,000 people, then there are 5,000 individuals moving from a Current State to a Future State. This is the essence of change management: supporting individuals through the required personal transitions necessary in order for a project or initiative to improve the performance of the organization.

The Prosci ADKAR Model provides a more detailed description of how an individual successfully moves from their Current State to their Future State. The ADKAR Model describes the five building blocks of successful change:

  • Awarenessof the need for change
  • Desireto participate and support the change
  • Knowledgeon how to change
  • Abilityto implement the required skills and behaviors
  • Reinforcementto sustain the change

Whether it is a change at home, in the community or at work – individuals are successful at change when they have awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement. This results-oriented description of the individual change process gives change management practitioners a new focus. For example, instead of seeing their job as “creating a communications plan,” an effective practitioner with a focus on the individual change process sees his or her job as “creating awareness” and so forth.

Two final observations about change as a process at the individual level. First, people will start the change process at different points in time. A team that is part of a pilot program may learn about a change and start the change process months before other, larger groups of employees. Second, individuals take different amounts of time to move through the process themselves. For one, awareness of the need for change may only take a few hours where for another it may take days or weeks to arrive at the point of saying “I understand why the change is needed.”

Once we begin viewing and managing the individual change processes associated with a project or initiative, we will be more successful at enabling those individual transitions that together will result in successful organizational change.

Organizational level

When it comes to managing change at the organizational level, viewing change as a process helps determine the sequencing and content of the change management effort.

First, organizational change management itself should follow a process that parallels the process of change associated with a project or initiative. Prosci’s 3-Phase Process for organizational change management lays out specific activities for Phase 1 – Preparing for Change (occurring during the Current State), Phase 2 – Managing Change (occurring during the Transition State) and Phase 3 – Reinforcing Change (occurring during the Future State).

Second, research shows that change management practitioners have five tools, or levers, they can use to help move individuals forward through the change process: communications plan, sponsor roadmap, coaching plan, training plan and resistance management plan. Depending on if we are in the Current State, the Transition State or the Future State, different tools will be more effective, and the content will change. Two examples:

  • The Training Plan– a training plan is a key component of a change management effort. Employees typically need new skills and competencies when adopting a change to their day-to-day work. But the training plan must be effectively sequenced based on where employees are in the change process. A training program that occurs right when employees learn about a change – when they are standing firmly in the Current State – will not be effective (this is an unfortunate reality in many cases, however, where the first response to a change is “send them to training”). Training should be delivered after employees have already started to move out of the Current State and into the Transition State.
  • The Communications Plan– the content of an effective communications plan parallels or matches where employees are in the process of change. Early communication efforts should focus on explaining why the Current State is not working and must be changed. Communications later on in the change process can begin to focus on details and the eventual results the project or initiative is aiming to deliver. If the first communications to employees focus on the details, milestones and vision of the change, employees are left with unanswered questions that cloud their ability to process the details – namely “why?”

Managing change as a process from an organizational viewpoint ensures that the right activities are occurring at the right time, and that employees are receiving the right information they need to move through their own personal process of change.

Key lessons for change managers:

  1. Treat the changes you manage as a process, and not as a single event or series of events.
  2. Individuals experience change as a process. Evaluate and focus your change management activities based on where individuals are in the change process.
  3. No one experiences the process the same.
  4. Your organizational change management efforts need to be tied to where you are in the change process.