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What is Change Management?

To help answer the question “what is change management?” it’s worth being reminded that how we view change affects our broad approach to change. In our article “Building a Theory of Change Management” we discuss the two main strands of thinking: one seeing change as something that is planned and structured, the other a more organic and emergent view of change.

But establishing a broad approach needs to be complemented with a more detailed understanding of the change situation. So here we take a more detailed look at some different characteristics of change and the implications for how change is managed. Together, how we view change and the characteristics of change help shape how we then “define change management“, and ultimately how we manage change.

What is change management – constant but not the same?

Whilst change might be constant it is not always the same. Different characteristics of change often call for different ways of managing the change.

It would be short sighted to apply the same change management models and techniques simply because they worked for one kind of change to another change project which may have very different characteristics.

But what characteristics of change then might shape the way we decide to manage change?

We suggest 5 common characteristics of change that help to shape our understanding of what is change management.

For the following characteristics think through how the way you might manage change will differ.

What is change management?

  • Depth of change – to what extent are you changing processes and products, or are you trying to change culture, attitudes and beliefs. The latter is a far deeper change and one that will usually take a lot longer
  • Size (scale) – is the change local and only involving part of an organisation? Is the change strategic and applicable across the whole organisation.
  • Speed – is the change intended to happen over a reasonable period of time? Does the change need to be rapid? Slow or fast change require different management approaches.
  • Resistance – what are the attitudes to change amongst colleagues is there significant resistance or are a majority supportive?
  • Strength – how strong are the forces for change? Are there compelling reasons for making the changes?

What is change management – a healthy appreciation of the unpredictable?

Change almost by definition is something that is different from what was there before: there is an inherent unpredictability about it.

Every change context will be different and having a healthy appreciation of those differences can make all the difference when it comes to successful change management. Assessing the characteristics of a particular change can help in pointing towards what is likely to work for the specific change situation.

Central to answering the question “what is change management?” is the need to know the characteristics of the change you are trying to manage and to gain a healthy appreciation of the unpredictable nature of creating something new.

Where to go from here:


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