Change, change and transformation. Everyone is talking about it and they know how necessary it is to quickly adapt to constantly changing conditions. And yet change is difficult. This is shown by examples such as the Mann-Gulch disaster, in which experienced firefighters died because they were unable to put down what they had learned and spontaneously change their behavior. We see this in the current COVID-19 pandemic as well, and at the same time we learn that change is possible if the need is felt to be large enough. The following article provides an overview of the most important methods and models of change management.
Under change management “all tasks, measures and activities can be summarized, which should bring about a comprehensive, cross-departmental and far-reaching change – for the implementation of new strategies, structures, systems, processes or behaviors – in an organization.” So much for the definition, but what does change management address exactly? Change or change is an integral part of everyday company life: Changed market conditions, increased customer requirements and technical progress require new structures and better processes. The human factor plays the central role – also in digitization. The economist Peter Drucker stated more than 50 years ago: “We are becoming aware that the major questions regarding technology are not technical but human questions.”
And this is exactly the human factor that Change Management addresses. We humans find it difficult to make changes. Our brain is programmed to survive. It wants to ward off dangers and is always looking for a reward. Defense, however, plays the more dominant role. It is also activated in the event of changes that are unpredictable in their effects: analytical thinking is thereby suppressed, making change difficult. Change management methods now ensure that changes can still be made, because they lead the process of change stringently and effectively, define fields of action and individual tasks.
The Lewin model
The Lewin change management model with its three phases “Unfreeze – Move – Refreeze” is one of the simpler. Psychologist Kurt Lewin developed it in the 1940s. Originally intended as a model for social changes in a society, today it is used wherever changes take place – including in companies and projects.
The figure shows the three phases and their core tasks. In the “unfreeze phase” the existing condition is thawed, which prepares the changes. By realizing that change is necessary, things get moving. The actual change takes place in the “move phase”. Here it is important to create new solutions, learn new behaviors and thus make the change. Once the changes have been introduced, the new state is frozen in the “Refreeze phase” in order to keep the changes. This is achieved through training and coaching, among other things. Freezing also signals that the goal of the current change measures has been reached.
The 8-step model from Kotter
The most well-known model for the successful implementation of business transformations is the model by John P. Kotter. The graphic shows Kotter’s eight-stage process, which is also divided into three phases.
The first three stages are about building up the willingness to change. If the awareness of the need for change is there, the management team can be won over for the transformation. Only when these steps have been successfully completed can the further steps follow.
Show urgency (“Increase Urgency”): The need for change must be shown: it cannot go on as it is. Targeted communication measures make those involved aware that the company and therefore jobs are unsafe unless something is done. The background to this is that change is only possible if the participants internalize that it is necessary to avert danger.
The following points should be noted:
present the threat scenario and at the same time show a possible solution;
show the benefits of the new strategy for the company;
identify the benefits for those affected and the answer to “What is in it for me?” give;
Present the target image clearly: Describe all the facts, including those that are assumed to be given. Use the “KISS” principle (KISS = Keep It Short & Simple);
Build Guiding Team: You need a good leadership team made up of influential people who all pull together. This is the only way to implement upcoming changes and anchor them in the company. It is important to include people in the management team who have a great influence and / or a good reputation in the workforce. At the same time, they must be fully behind the planned change. If it is still possible to win so-called “gray eminences” – people in the company who are known for their critical stance – this will further strengthen the team.
Develop vision (“Get Vision Right”): A strong vision is essential because it helps to implement change. It sets the overall goal, shows what the future should look like, and answers the question of meaning: why and for what are we there? What role does the respective team play in relation to the overall goals? The vision is one of the most important tools in change management. If it is able to address people’s unconscious goals – because these are the ones that control their thinking and behavior – then it acts like a magnet. It motivates projects and is one of several success factors for mobilizing employees. The strategy complements the vision: it describes the concrete path to the overarching goals.
- Integrate change into its history
The team needs to know which earlier points in the company the current change is building on and which future direction is emerging.
- Just outline the tasks
Anyone who lets their employees help shape them achieves more. It is therefore advisable to draw a rough
sketch of the change project and to have the team make suggestions for elaboration, rather than to present a fully developed plan.
- Take the team perspective
How does the change affect the team members, what does the initiative mean from their point of view – whoever takes this perspective has the employees on his side.
- Clearly define who has to do what now
With the change, responsibilities and roles are flowing. From day one, every employee has to know what he has to do right now. Until that changes and a new announcement comes.
- share experience
Share experiences: As far as possible, employees should take part in specific activities such as visits to the customer. The closer you experience the change, the better.
- Allow questions
Questions coming from the team should never be considered resistance. But on the contrary. A boss who allows questions and answers them can transfer partial responsibilities to employees more quickly.
- Represent the economy
In addition to a lot of communication with the team, it is also about developing metrics and key figures for the change project and making them clear.
- Know where the focus is
A lot of small parts have to be clarified and organized within a change. The focus should not be forgotten. Regular meetings must always refer to this focus, clear metrics must make it clear where the team is at the moment.
- Update sub-goals
Not every milestone will be reached as originally planned. It is therefore important to regularly update sub-goals with the team.
Common calendars for the change project and jointly developed guidelines that define the priorities: These are good ways to coordinate the work of the individual team members again and again.
- Organize commitment
Who takes responsibility for what and how does the team regulate that these responsibilities are actually carried out? Such questions must be clarified together. The individual employees have to know which part they are taking on, and they have to be able to formulate precisely what they need from their boss.
In the second phase, the organization is involved and thereby enabled to accompany the upcoming change. It is important here that as many affected people as possible become involved and help shape the changes. This increases the chances of success and the sustainability of the changes enormously.
Communicate the vision (“Communicate for buy-in”): Communication comes before implementation. Those affected have to understand them in order to become involved or supporters. Taking measures without first explaining the context to those involved would unnecessarily create unrest in the company. When it comes to communication, it makes sense to proceed in several steps: The change team first informs the client and gets a “go” there. The change team then informs the executives so that they can also answer questions from employees in a company-wide communication. The next step is to find the appropriate form to communicate the vision to everyone involved.
Authorization (“Empower action”): Only those who feel “empowered” can really help. That is why it is so crucial to give the parties involved scope for action in addition to the tasks. So the implementation is distributed over many shoulders. If everyone is affected, everyone must ultimately do something, change something so that the vision can be achieved. Planning is also important: who has to do what so that everyone achieves the goal? Responsibility is shared with the tasks. Here it is often advisable to break down the goals into sub-goals for teams or organizational areas instead of just distributing tasks. Teams can then plan themselves. You are “empowered”.
Make short-term successes visible (“Create short term wins”): Rapid success must be realized and made visible so that motivation increases. Quick wins should therefore also be identified in the context of the goal definition, because success is important so that the initially generated motivation is not lost. The first successes should be related to the overall goal, because then they strengthen the intrinsic motivation. Small successes can have a big impact.
The last two stages serve the sustainable implementation of change, the sustainable change.
Do not let up (“Don´t let up”): Level 7 goes hand in hand with Level 6 – after a period of change work, there is a risk of falling back into old patterns and weakening efforts to change. The main problem is that people in the company or project no longer perceive the necessity and urgency created in level 1. Because you have already achieved something. Now it is important to remain focused and strong and, for example, to make it clear to yourself and the team again and again what necessity the change measures were started from. And also to show clearly that the goal has not yet been reached.
Anchoring changes in the corporate culture (“Make change stick”): Only when the changes achieved have been successfully anchored in the corporate culture are they sustainable and only then can we speak of a successful change management process. To achieve this, the right values must be conveyed. Training and development programs can support this, but it is also important to abolish processes and procedures that do not fit the new culture. Last but not least, a decision must also be made on how to deal with colleagues who, in the long term, defend themselves against the implemented changes and the new culture, i.e. who are not ready to accept the new.
Implementation according to Covey
Even if Stephen Covey’s implementation method is not one of the common change management processes, it should be mentioned here. Because Covey shows why the implementation of plans (especially changes) often fails, and what can be done to ensure that the implementation succeeds. In order to achieve sustainable change, it is important to monitor progress over the long term and to communicate the degree of achievement transparently for all involved. This closes the so-called implementation gap. Covey divides this implementation gap – shown in the following figure – into four levels:
Employees do not know the goal.
Employees don’t know what to do to reach the goal.
Employees have no idea where they are on the way to their goal.
Employees do not feel responsible for reaching the goal.
Basically, these four stumbling blocks are also dealt with in Kotter’s model. Nevertheless, with every change measure, it is extremely helpful to consciously question:
Do those involved know the goal?
Do you know what you have to do to achieve it?
Do you know where you are on the way to your goal?
And do you also feel responsible?
In order to address the last two points, Covey recommends continuously measuring the degree to which the goals have been achieved and communicating actively and regularly to all those involved. This avoids not only the third, but also the fourth stumbling block. Because through regular involvement, the management team shares responsibility with everyone involved. This creates trust and the participants can make their own contribution as independently as possible. And that is exactly what makes people happy: knowing what is expected of them, combined with the freedom to participate and take responsibility. It promotes their motivation sustainably, especially when transparent communication shows that they themselves are part of a successful implementation.
As mentioned at the beginning, the current pandemic shows that change is possible. And it trains us all to deal with changes. With Kotters or Lewins methods, there are good approaches that can be effectively supplemented by the perspective introduced by Covey. Now is the right time to take a closer look at them, because both willingness and need for change have a high. (pg / fm)