Understanding change to improve change management

Blog, Change management

Regardless of timing and circumstances, organisational change is always difficult. 

With every day comes a new set of challenges and changes that must be factored into decision-making. While most organisations are aware of external change coming down the line that impacts their organisation, few can predict the repercussions that face their work, sector and industry.

Companies best equipped to manage change often have three things in common: agile ways of working, a resilient mindset and a clear understanding of the types of change that might affect their business.

While adopting an agile approach and resilient mindset takes time, organisations that are focused on change management should understand the types of change that they may experience so that they can adapt their strategy accordingly.

Some of the most common types of change that organisations experience are unplanned, technological, strategic and structural change.

Let’s break them down.

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Unplanned Change

Unplanned change happens as a result of unexpected (and unplanned) events. 

We’ve all experienced unplanned change at some point in our lives and careers, whether it’s big, like the shift to remote work during the pandemic, or small, like a co-worker unexpectedly leaving the team.

Change management strategies that help organisations prepare for unplanned change might involve drafting a well-defined strategy that specifies aims, goals, purpose and the direction the organisation should follow during the change. The strategy should define:

  • Characteristics of the change
  • Change timeframes
  • Risks
  • Limitations
  • Potential employee response and resistance 
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Practical approaches to unplanned change

Managing teams during unplanned change is always challenging. Here are a few practical approaches you can consider using to ensure a seamless transition:

  • Communicate frequently and thoroughly to avoid misunderstandings and assumptions 
  • Put tools in place that boost employee engagement, including rewards and recognition for achieving targets
  • Prioritising learning and development to upskill employees and ensure they are equipped with the skills they need for change
  • Introduce support for individual employees to help them adapt to change
  • Be flexible in your approach. Change is not easy, so ensure you prioritise the requirements of your teams. 

One major unplanned change that we’ve witnessed many organisations experience is the wave of employee resignations. While this can have significant impacts on organisations, it is possible to plan for this type of change.

Succession planning identifies critical positions within your organisation, future staffing needs, key knowledge that should be documented and the types of people the organisation should fill roles with. This ensures that teams are ready to take action and have clear guidance from leadership as soon as any change occurs.

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Technological Change 

Technological change, although sometimes planned, also has the potential to impact the way we work, particularly in a post-Covid-19 world.

This might look like introducing new software and systems to your organisation to improve business processes and productivity.

What most companies find challenging when it comes to implementing technological change is defining and communicating project goals, with the absence of communication often resulting in frustrated employees and resistance from teams.

Technology change management focuses on identifying new technology, assessing its applicability to your needs and implementing a digital strategy for improved productivity and profitability. When it comes to digital technology, this type of change is typically referred to as digital transformation.

While technology is the cornerstone of digital transformation, it doesn’t eliminate the need for real human interaction to support change. Everyone learns and understands new information at a different pace, which is why it’s so important to help employees understand and accept change.  ​​Technology is designed to make our lives easier, but learning curves can make technology-related changes tricky to implement. Consider scheduling upskilling sessions and meeting regularly to discuss any concerns that might arise.

Practical approach to technological change

When introducing new technology, introducing a clear and well-communicated transition plan can help manage change. People want to understand:

  • Why the new technology is necessary
  • What makes the new technology better than current solutions 
  • How you will support them during the transition

You can build confidence in the change by explaining that the transition will be supported by various change management tools that offer capabilities such as in-app training, weekly check-ins, and an internal discussion for handling questions.

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Strategic Change

Strategic and structural change typically occur in a planned manner. This might look like making changes to business policies, structures or processes. Upper management is responsible for cascading this type of change down through the organisation.

Let’s consider an organisation that’s mission changes as it strives to become more sustainable. This change in focus also causes a strategic change which might result in restructuring needs and reorganising parts of the organisation, remaining competitive or having an equivalent impact with fewer resources. To make these changes happen, leaders must ensure that teams have a shared vision and understand the reasons behind executing change.

Structural Change

Structural changes might stem from internal or external factors and typically affect how the company is run. This might look like a shift in the management hierarchy, team organisation, responsibilities attributed to different departments, chain of command, job structure and administrative procedures. Restructuring can also result in downsizing or upsizing the workforce.

While all change impacts employees, structural change can have a more profound effect. People-centric change usually means that leadership might experience resistance from employees. That’s why transparency, carefully considered communication, effective leadership and an empathetic approach are so important.

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Tools to support change management 

Once you’ve learnt about the types of change that effect your organisation, it’s time to consider the best way to approach them. Here are some models that we recommend checking out: 

Managing emotional reactions to change 

  • Kübler-Ross change curve
  • Satir Change Model 
  • Bridge’s Transition Model 

Results-oriented change leadership and management

  • ADKAR model (which works through employee education, communication and support)

Change manage for when you don’t know what change is needed

  • The McKinsey 7-S model 

Looking for more advice and insights on change management? Our in-house expert, Masha, is always here to help. Get in touch at hello@freshstrategy.ch

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