In my work I have many times encountered the belief that communication is the most important thing in change management, if not even the only one. While I agree with communications being indeed critical to change management, it is still only one part of the bigger picture.
Successful change management requires a strategic, people-driven approach. It largely builds on the understanding of the various stakeholder groups involved in the change. Thoroughly knowing the stakeholders enables purposeful change management, also change communications, to correct audiences at the correct time. Without stakeholder understanding, change management can easily turn into a random series of communication activities which fail to drive the change effectively.
What should be considered with stakeholder management?
Typically, we categorize change management stakeholders into three main groups which each have their own part to play in the process: those impacted by the change, those that support the execution of the change, and those who drive the change.
Change impacts different stakeholders with different scope and magnitude. When we understand a given stakeholder group’s unique change journey and plan change management activities (including change communications) leveraging that understanding, we can ensure commitment and engagement to the change.
Understanding the people impacted by the change
First, to manage change for those who are impacted, we must understand the change from their perspective. The purpose and benefits of the change need to be communicated to them in a relevant and meaningful way. Depending on the nature of the change, it may impact many things such as processes, work assignments, tools and technologies, teams, coworkers, and interfaces. Where some of these things may increase with the change, some might be removed, some changed dramatically.
Ultimately, the impacted stakeholders will need to adapt their way of working in one way or another to support the change. Furthermore, sometimes the change requires learning totally new ways of working. To enable this, in addition to tailored change communications, we must provide trainings, resources, and support, which will help these people feel confident and capable in their new responsibilities as well as in relation to the change itself.
Supporters need to share the same change vision
The people needed to support in the change execution need to align on the vision and how it supports the organization’s goals. These people will work on clarifying the purpose of the change for their own teams. This will enable people to feel more connected to the change, understand their role in it, and take ownership in making it happen.
- What impacts will there be specifically towards our team?
- What’s in it for me?
Stakeholders are more likely to be receptive to messages about changes if they come from credible and trustworthy sources. In fact, research has shown that the most impactful communications often come from the project owner, sponsors, and top management. These individuals are seen as having the authority and expertise to speak about the change initiative and its purpose, and their involvement can help to build trust and credibility with stakeholders. Their messages can also help to set the tone for the change initiative and demonstrate the organization’s commitment to its success.
In addition to the vital role of top management and sponsors, the team leaders and line managers are crucial in change management. They add transparency between senior management and staff, providing relevant and timely information, and facilitating two-way communication. These are important building blocks to trust, setting correct expectations, and reducing uncertainty and wrong assumptions.
Change drivers plan and guide the change
The people who drive the change are responsible for creating, delivering, and monitoring change plans and progress, with clear milestones and targets. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of progress is important to identify any potential roadblocks or areas where the plan may need to be adjusted. Prioritizing support for the first two groups of stakeholders – those impacted by the change and those needed to support the execution of the change – is a crucial responsibility for the change drivers.
One more group important to mention…
I want to highlight one more group relevant for the change: the project team. Based on my experience, the success of the change strongly also relies on the commitment of the project team, both on the change as well as its execution. It is important to ensure awareness of the project status and deliverables across all the project organization, its sub-projects, and streams as well as possible external partners and key collaborators. This becomes especially important in large programs.
For change success, it is critical that all project team members work together to achieve common goals. Depending on the situation, the project team members might also need to act at least partially as faces for the change, change agents, messengers, and therefore it is vital that all perceive and understand the change in the same way, are committed, and that they too possess the necessary skills to drive the change forward.
Focusing on stakeholder management pays off
Effective stakeholder management can be concluded as the foundation and key for successful change management. Organizations that take the time to define and understand their stakeholders and create tailored and targeted change and communications plans leveraging that understanding, have the possibility to achieve much greater success and outcomes driving and sustaining change.