Change Management

Change Management; What Are We Actually Changing?

Written by Paula Gray

By Paula Gray, Anthropologist, AIPMM

There is a lot written about change management along with a host of templates, grids, spreadsheets, timelines and more tools to manage change in organizations. However, much of it misses the point. Most of the literature focuses on how to change a process, the decision to change, the method by which a process is modified, but what most fails to recognize is that it all comes down to a change in human behavior. The literature notes that there may be individuals who are less motivated to change but none of it recognizes that it all begins and ends with a behavior change. That is how any process is changed, through human behavior.

Before beginning the process of change it is crucial to understand how the current process or system fits into a group’s work life and how it impacts individuals. Then we can better understand how to manage the people and behavior that create the change. Does the current process consume a large percentage of an individual’s or group’s time? Is it a core or fundamental structure of their job? If there is a major modification to this process, the behavioral change of this magnitude is more challenging. Humans find comfort in familiarity, known patterns and established routine so a significant change in tasks will rock the world of a team or organization, even for a positive change.

The best strategies to address the human aspect of change management include:

  • Ensuring the change is openly supported organization-wide. As difficult as behavior change is, the support from management is crucial. Support can be in the form of acknowledgement of concerns or adequate resource allocation. As a sub-note of this point it is also important for management to know the “word on the street.” These are the attitudes and beliefs that aren’t necessarily mentioned in the official documents, meetings and formats. Recognizing this underlying current is critical to addressing resistance and the motivation behind it.
  • Rewarding positive behavior change. This sounds simple but is very powerful. By rewarding individuals who adopt the new tasks and process, and creating a positive association we begin to create patterns and familiarity over time.
  • Making the new process or tasks routine. This takes time but needs to be a priority. The goal is to get to a level of familiarity and established routine. This means to make sure the parameters for a new task/deliverable/etc. are final before it is rolled out.
    Changes on top of changes prevent that established routine from becoming set and leave people in limbo so it is important to keep them to a minimum once it is launched. Granted there will always need to be adjustments but recognize the impact these compounded changes will make.

As organizations continue to change and evolve, as they should, it is important to remember that we are never managing change, we are managing the people through which change takes place.

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About the author

Paula Gray

Paula Gray is an anthropologist and the Director of Research and Knowledge Development at AIPMM. She has traveled the globe to work with companies throughout the US, Europe, Africa and Asia-Pacific to help them gain a deeper understanding of their customers. She is featured in Linda Gorchels' book The Product Manager's Handbook and has contributed to several books on product management including The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK). She is also the author of numerous blog posts and papers including Business Anthropology and the Culture of Product Managers.