The principles of change management and change implementation have been studied and written about by many people. Indeed, as we are not shy about letting people know, Dale Stanley and I have written about the subject (and we continue to discuss change management often with our clients and colleagues).
In our recommendations about this important subject, we provide what we call “The Four Principles of Change Management,” identifying these attributes:
- Sponsorship. This change management principle identifies an influential leader who commits to a consultative role in the change process and agrees to express, model, and reinforce his or her commitment to the knowledge-sharing improvement or innovation being proposed. Or as we prefer to say at SMR International — connecting to our company name — the sponsor is a leader in the organization who Speaks about, Models, and Reinforces that critical commitment.
- Champions and Change Agents. The emphasis here is on identifying and obtaining commitment from influential people willing to speak about the benefits of change as well as the benefits of the strategic knowledge activity being undertaken. Importantly, these are people known in the organization who will encourage adoption (champions are usually thought of as early adopters and change agents as individuals who will express and model the new behaviors to a population of users).
- Organizational Readiness and Managing Resistance. This change management principle recognizes that users and affected stakeholders are engaged early in the process and, when appropriate, invited to participate in general discussions about the change and — in some situations — to participate in planning change. This principle essentially diffuses resistance or, at the very least, gives those resisting an opportunity to be part of the effort to enable useful and productive change.
- Communication Planning. Integral to the fundamental success of change management and change implementation, this principle engages users and affected stakeholders early in the process and connects with the above principles in a coordinated and consistent manner. An example of an effective application of this principle is the development of a calendar of events or project plan that incorporates elements of a consistent message in language that matches that of the organizational culture in which the affected colleagues are employed.
So there are our four basic principles for success in change management.
But as we deal with knowledge services, knowledge sharing, and developing the organizational knowledge strategy, I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t another “first principle,” one that states that knowledge strategists must think about before we embark on a campaign of cultural change (or even – a little more realistically – creating or re-framing a specific KM/knowledge services project).
If we’re called upon to build a process and develop a plan for a knowledge initiative, what should we think about first? Perhaps we’ve been asked to work on creating a knowledge repository, say, or implementing a particular decision-support tool. Whatever the task before us, planning that initiative is probably going to require a wide range of iterations and considerations.
And, yes, those four “principles” listed above are critical, but we must focus on another consideration (a consideration I find people speak with me about more than I expected): if we’re going to succeed with managing and implementing change connected with a knowledge services initiative, change management “should be linked from Day 1” — the way the idea is generally expressed to me.
Here’s my concern: We’re going to move forward with the initiative following the steps of the classic project management framework, either formally or – in most cases I expect – informally. Those steps are pretty clear cut and include the classic five process groups: initiating the project, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing down. Most of us, as I say, usually include these in our project work, whether we think formally about it or not.
All well and good, but what I’m looking for is the point in the process where we bring in our methodology for dealing with the change. We know that change management and change implementation are going to be required if our knowledge services initiative is to succeed, but when do we do it? When do we start speaking about knowledge services?
In our experience at SMR, we sadly don’t see change management usually given attention as the knowledge services project moves forward. In some cases, project managers incorporate change management into the training required for implementing a new tool or technique but this, too, is often treated as an “add-on” or something to “finish with” (in some cases even relegated to Phase 5 or 6 of a seven-phase project – not good!).
And if the need for change is from an even bigger/broader perspective, there’s a more serious problem. How often do we hear references to the need for “cultural change” when we’re working with a knowledge services initiative? It’s not an unusual comment, and in our case, it works to our advantage if, in fact, we are seeking to move the organization — either immediately or eventually — to an overall framework we would refer to as a “knowledge culture.” If we don’t approach change management and change implementation up front, I fear we’re building in failure, whether we’re aiming for culture change or even if our goal is nothing more than a successful but limited workplace initiative.
So I’m recommending we build change management considerations early into the process.
What’s your opinion? Do you agree with me that we should approach change management and change implementation early on? What’s been your experience? How were you able to “move” change management up to earlier in the process?
And if it’s more appropriate to establish knowledge sharing on the subject of change management and change implementation (as we often describe this activity in the workplace), it might be wise to connect change management with the strategic learning, that activity that we think of as one of the three structural elements of knowledge services. One of the most important roles of the knowledge strategist is to establish and work with an organized learning and training program (usually undertaken cooperatively with the HR department or with the organization’s human capital staff). Taking such a step provides a winning opportunity for both efforts — embracing a change management activity and connecting with the organization’s strategic learning process. And as the change management plan is developed, focusing on change management as part of the organization’s strategic learning and training program up-front, before the plan gets too far along, can ensure a more positive reaction to the whole idea of managing the change that must be put in place.
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